Judge Austin Jackson, East Texas pro-life activists sued in effort to block Texas abortion Heartbeat Bill

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TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Newly-elected 114th District Court Judge Austin Jackson and an East Texas pro-life activist have been sued by pro-choice groups in an effort to block the Texas “heartbeat bill” that was created by State Sen. Bryan Hughes and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this year.

In a press conference with Hughes in Tyler on Wednesday, Jackson called the lawsuit “frivolous” and said he had been named the number one target of pro-abortion activists. He called the situation “cancel culture at its finest.”

“We’re here because out-of-county, out-of-state, out-of-touch groups like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have decided that if they can’t silence the legislators down in Austin, maybe they can silence the judges who enforce the law in East Texas.”

Judge Jackson

The bill is one of the most restrictive abortion bills since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion back in 1972. The law abolishes elective abortions as early as six weeks, when the preborn child’s heartbeat is detectable using methods according to standard medical practice, and will take effect September 1.

“They tell us to follow the science, we’re following the science. When there’s a heartbeat, there’s a human life worthy of protection, and that’s what the Heartbeat Law does in Texas,” Hughes said.

Tyler-based attorney Shane McGuire is representing Jackson in court, and said they plan to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit by Wednesday or Thursday.

“It is open season on judges in Texas if this lawsuit is allowed to go forward,” McGuire said.

The bill is unique in that enforcement is left up to citizens to file civil lawsuits against abortion providers they believe to be in violation of the law. The only exception to the bill is for a medical emergency that threatens the mother. There is none for rape or incest.

The lawsuit against Judge Jackson, which was filed in an Austin federal court, says the bill “flagrantly violates the constitutional rights of Texans seeking abortion and upends the rule of law in service of an anti-abortion agenda.” It likened the lawsuit provision to “a bounty” being placed on those who provide or aid abortions.

Under the law, there is no requirement that the citizen who files a lawsuit has to be connected to the woman seeking an abortion.

While Judge Jackson is named personally in the lawsuit, it does not say why he was chosen to represent nearly all judges that could have an abortion suit brought before them. It states that Jackson “is an adequate class representative because his court has jurisdiction over civil claims with an amount… greater than $200.”

The lawsuit argues that Jackson, along with all other Texas judges that could have similar claims brought to their court, should not be able to enforce them.

Texas Right to Life, the oldest pro-life group in the state, endorsed Jackson two weeks before early voting began last year. He was also endorsed by State Rep. Matt Schaefer, who the Texas Tribune ranked as the most conservative House member during this year’s legislative session.

Smith County Clerk Penny Clarkson has also been sued since it would be her duty to file any lawsuit that an individual would file against an abortion provider.

The lawsuit also names Mark Dickson, a Longview man who is the Director of Right to Life East Texas, as a defendant in the case.

It asks that “Dickson, his agents, servants, employees, attorneys, and any persons in active concert or participation with him, from enforcing S.B. 8 in any way.”

He is one of the driving forces between many small East Texas towns declaring themselves as “sanctuary cities for the unborn” despite nearly all not having abortion providers anywhere near their city limits.

That movement began in June 2019 when Waskom became the first to pass such an ordinance. Dickson said at the time that “we decided to take things into our own hands and that we have got to do something to protect our cities and to protect the unborn children.”

Several other tiny communities passed similar ordinances despite most city attorneys agreeing that they were unconstitutional and would all but certainly be struck down by courts if they were to be sued. Those communities were:

  • Naples
  • Joaquin
  • Tenaha
  • Rusk
  • Gary
  • Wells

In fact, the ACLU did file a lawsuit against those seven towns but was dropped during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic.

The issue was put back into the spotlight earlier this year when Lubbock voters passed a measure during May elections that banned abortion. The ordinance does not make an exception for people pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

Lubbock, a town with more than 250,000 people, is by far the largest city to pass an abortion ban. A local clinic is the only abortion provider within a 300 miles radius and has since stopped providing the procedure since the ordinance took effect on June 1.

Planned Parenthood sued the city in May, but a federal judge dismissed it, saying the organization did not have the standing to bring a lawsuit.

The Lubbock ordinance is solely enforced by private citizens, not state or local actors. That enforcement structure has not been extensively tested in the courts, but the judge said his rulings could not prevent private parties from filing civil lawsuits in state court.

To read the full 50-page lawsuit filed against Jackson, Clarkson, and Dickson, click below.

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