The right's latest assault on reproductive rights: Letting antiabortion activists sue clinics

Americans United for Life drafted new legislation that would encourage activists to close clinics through lawsuits

Published December 9, 2013 2:19PM (EST)

                                           (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Americans United for Life, the Washington, D.C.-based antiabortion group that writes much of the legislation being used to restrict access to reproductive healthcare in states across the country, has drafted a proposal to let patients and others sue clinics to enforce the sweeping new abortion regulations adopted by several states in recent years. The proposal is intended to force clinic closures by saddling these facilities with legal fees.

AUL president Charmaine Yoest called it “the missing link” in the organization's strategy.

“All the work in getting pro-life legislation passed can be lost if there are no tools for enforcing them,” Yoest told Bloomberg News. “The enforcement module, for the first time, equips ordinary Americans to file a complaint, and expands the potential for people in their own communities -- in addition to state attorney generals or other legal office holders -- to hold the abortion industry accountable.”

More from Bloomberg:

The new proposals would provide the right for third parties -- as in non-state officials, such as a woman who had an abortion or her family -- to take legal action to ensure proper enforcement of an abortion-related law, said Denise Burke, Americans United’s vice president of legal affairs. States, not the group’s legislative templates, define “family” in terms of who has a cause of action or rights under the law.

One model statute would allow a person in violation of an abortion-related law to be held civilly liable to the person or persons adversely affected. It would allow a court to award damages, including compensation for emotional, physical, and psychological harm; attorney’s fees; and legal costs.

Adaptable templates for the proposals will be featured in the 2014 edition of “Defending Life,” which is effectively a made-to-order catalog of draconian abortion restrictions drafted by the AUL.

As Bloomberg notes, legislatures in 30 states passed 203 abortion restrictions since 2011, which have directly caused or otherwise contributed to the closure or cessation of abortion services at 73 clinics across the country.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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