Tuesday, June 28, 2022
Texas District & County Attorneys Association, Interim Summary: Abortion-Related Crimes After Dobbs
New criminal offense under HB 1280
The gist of new Chapter 170A is §170A.002 (Prohibited Abortion; Exceptions), which prohibits knowingly performing, inducing, or attempting an abortion at any time after fertilization. A violation of that section is a second-degree felony under §170A.004 (Criminal Offense) unless the unborn child dies, in which case it is a first-degree felony.
Other things to know about this new crime:
- “Abortion” includes surgical and non-surgical means, such as drugs/medicine (which now account for more than half of all elective abortions). The term would appear to include “selective reductions” performed as a part of some IVF treatments, but it does not include contraception, ectopic pregnancy removals, and other surgical acts listed in the definition of that term (§170A.001(1)).
- Nothing in Chapter 170A can be used to impose criminal, civil, or administrative liability upon a pregnant woman upon whom an abortion is performed (§170A.003).
- Doctors have defenses for performing an abortion to save the expectant mother from death or severe injury and for any medical treatment that results in an accidental fetal death (§170A.002).
This new criminal offense will apply to conduct occurring on or after the 30th day after Dobbs finally overrules Roe. Note that this is *not* 30 days from today; the Court’s opinion was released today, but not it’s final judgment or mandate. The Attorney General’s Office issued a legal advisory today noting this remaining contingency, along with a (speculative) comment that some abortion-related crimes may be prosecutable immediately. (More on that below.) Regardless of an such opinion, though, any criminal, civil, or administrative action brought under the new law is likely to involve litigation over the effective date of §170A.002 due to its unusual (unprecedented?) trigger mechanism.
New civil fines (and complications)
Chapter 170A also includes new §170A.005 (Civil Penalty) creating a civil penalty of not less than $100,000 for each violation of §170A.002. If this sends up a double jeopardy red flag for you, congratulations—you are probably recalling the admonition from Dep’t of Revenue of Montana v. Ranch, 511 U.S. 767 (1994), in which SCOTUS held that a defendant already convicted and punished for a criminal offense cannot have a non-remedial civil penalty imposed against him for the same offense in a separate proceeding due to the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause. And the reverse is also true: If a defendant fully pays a civil fine, then any subsequent criminal prosecution is barred by double jeopardy. See, Ex parte Ward, 964 S.W.2d 617, 627 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998).
While the Double Jeopardy Clause does not prohibit the initial filing of concurrent criminal and civil actions, a conviction in the former or a full payment in the latter will foreclose the other option. Interestingly, the civil enforcement provision of §170A.005 requires the attorney general (OAG) to file a civil action to recover this civil fine. By requiring OAG to pursue a minimum six-figure civil penalty for the same conduct that potentially incurs a felony sentence of imprisonment and a criminal fine, the legislature has created a legal framework that could prevent a criminal conviction for certain violations of the new anti-abortion “trigger law” crime if any of those civil fines are collected by OAG.