Anti-abortion activists are demanding that several Texas abortion funds reveal information about every abortion the organizations have “assisted or facilitated in any way” since the state enacted its infamous six-week ban on the procedure in 2021.
The petition for personal information on thousands of people ― including physicians, medical support staff, abortion fund workers and donors ― came as part of a discovery request earlier this month in an ongoing lawsuit over Texas’ abortion bans. Jonathan Mitchell, the former Texas solicitor general who is credited with creating the state’s six-week abortion ban, served the requests to nine Texas abortion funds and one OB-GYN in the Fund Texas Choice v. Paxton case.
“This is a stunning escalation attacking the free speech and privacy rights of so many people,” said Neesha Davé, the executive director of Lilith Fund, one of the abortion funds included in the case.
“It is objectively terrifying to think about what anti-abortion extremists want to do with this personal information and how low they are willing to go to get it,” she continued. “But let’s be clear: under no circumstances will we ever willingly hand over this personal information.”
“It is objectively terrifying to think about what anti-abortion extremists want to do with this personal information and how low they are willing to go to get it.”
The pro-choice groups involved in the case are generally optimistic that the federal judge will cite First Amendment protections and decline to order the organizations to hand over personal information. But even if the anti-choice groups aren’t successful, the case could have a chilling effect on the little abortion access left.
“It’s about making it so difficult that people wouldn’t even dare think about getting an abortion, so difficult that people wouldn’t even dare think about providing an abortion,” Marsha Jones, executive director at the Afiya Center, one of the plaintiff abortion funds, told HuffPost.
The request for information is a terrifying look at the far-reaching efforts to surveil abortion-seeking patients in Texas and beyond.
Mitchell declined to comment for this story.
He, along with other anti-choice attorneys in the case, requested that the abortion funds identify every abortion the groups have supported since Sept. 1, 2021.
“This includes every abortion that you paid for in whole or in part, subsidized in any way, or reimbursed or defrayed the costs of, including payments, subsidies, or reimbursements made for travel costs, lodging, child care, or any other cost or expense associated with an abortion or a person’s efforts to obtain an abortion,” the discovery request reads. “This also includes abortions for which you provided any type of practical, logistical, and emotional support.”
The request also asks for specific information for each abortion, including the date of the procedure; the name, address and phone number of the abortion provider; the method by which the abortion was performed; and, if it was a medication abortion, the locations where the patient swallowed each abortion pill. It further demands that providers identify anyone they know who has violated any of the state’s abortion bans.
The attorneys also want to know how far along each pregnant patient was when they received an abortion, as well as their city and state of residence. Although the document clearly states that plaintiffs do not need to provide abortion patients’ identities or the identities of their family members, the request asks for the identity of everyone else involved and to specify how each person assisted or facilitated the abortion.
Additionally, the discovery requests ask abortion funds to identify every person involved in their organization, including employees, board members, volunteers, donors and financial supporters.
“Donors are the lifeline of this work. If they can scare donors away, they can potentially shut us down,” Jones said.
Earlier this week, the abortion funds filed a motion for a protective order in response to the discovery requests, calling them “overly broad, harassing, and irrelevant to the legal issues raised in this case.”
“They seek among other things, private and constitutionally protected information. ... The Discovery Requests are plainly meant to further chill Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights and the rights of every person that seeks to associate with them,” the filing continued.
Marginalized groups like women of color, genderqueer folks and poor people are disproportionately impacted by abortion restrictions and the growing barriers to accessing care. The surveillance that would result from these discovery requests would only heighten the threat of criminalization.
Women with HIV are among those who would be disproportionately affected by increased surveillance, Jones said. The Afiya Center, where Jones has worked for over 15 years, is a reproductive justice organization based in North Texas that focuses on HIV in Black women and girls.
“The group that I am the most terrified for is folks living with HIV because this can literally become a legal criminal matter for them,” she said, pointing to the stigma associated with the disease. “We’re living in a time now where there’s still places where folks can be criminalized if there is even HIV exposure.”
Scroll below to read the discovery requests filed earlier this month.