Well, we knew it’d come to this. Right-wing, anti-choice legislators are unhappy merely regulating women’s bodies within the borders of their state, so they’ve kicked it up a notch. In the wake of the Dobbs decision overturning the constitutional protections for reproductive freedom in Roe v. Wade, a number of employers have promised to pay travel costs for any employee who seeks abortion care but cannot access it in their home state. And Biglaw has also stepped up on this issue. Yes, it continues to be bullshit that we’re depending on corporations and employers for bodily autonomy, but until there is a more lasting solution, this employment benefit could make all the difference in the world for someone who wants an abortion now.
But as band-aid-like as this temporary solution is, some Texas legislators are determined to ban that practice as well. Their latest target? Biglaw giant Sidley.
Yesterday, Sidley Chair Yvette Ostolaza received a letter (below) from the ironically named Texas Freedom Caucus threatening the firm for taking care of the healthcare needs of its employees:
Abortion is a felony criminal offense in Texas unless the mother’s life is in danger. See West’s Texas Civil Statutes, article 4512.1 (1974) (attached). The law of Texas also imposes felony criminal liability on any person who “furnishes the means for procuring an abortion knowing the purpose intended.” West’s Texas Civil Statutes, article 4512.2 (1974). This has been the law of Texas since 1925, and Texas did not repeal these criminal prohibitions in response to Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). These criminal prohibitions extend to drug-induced abortions if any part of the drug regimen is ingested in Texas, even if the drugs were dispensed by an out-of-state abortionist. To the extent that Sidley is facilitating abortions performed in violation of article 4512.1, it is exposing itself and each of its partners to felony criminal prosecution and disbarment.
The letter also details proposed legislation to be introduced in Texas that will “impose additional civil and criminal sanctions on law firms that pay for abortions or abortion travel.” The “Freedom” Caucus would like to impose felony criminal sanctions on anyone paying for an abortion, allow private citizens to sue over it à la SB 8, and any lawyer who “furnish[es] the means for procuring an abortion knowing the purpose intended” will face disbarment. The letter threatens, “The state of Texas will ensure that you and colleagues are held accountable for every abortion that you illegally assisted.”
We reached out to Sidley for comment, but did not immediately hear back.
In this fight over the fundamental right to travel — for whatever reasons — Sidley will need a few good lawyers. Fortunately, I hear they’ve got a few of those kicking around.
Read the Texas Freedom Caucus’s letter below.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).