Texas lawmakers target law firms for making abortion easier

Signage is seen outside the law firm Sidley Austin in their legal offices in Washington, DC, U.S., May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • The Texas Freedom Caucus has accused law firm Sidley Austin of being ‘complicit in illegal abortions’ performed in the state
  • Sidley Austin is one of many major law firms offering to cover travel costs for employees seeking abortions
  • Letter says lawmakers will propose legislation to disbar lawyers and sanction law firms for facilitating abortions

(Reuters) – A group of Texas state lawmakers this week warned law firm Sidley Austin that it was courting legal action by promising to reimburse staff who travel for abortions and said that a bill was in the works to designate lawyers and law firms for violating anti-abortion laws.

Sidley, an international firm with more than 2,000 attorneys and offices in Dallas and Houston, was among several law firms that internally announced travel expense reimbursement policies after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down last month the constitutional right to abortion, leaving states to regulate the procedure. .

In a letter Thursday, the Texas Freedom Caucus — a coalition of 11 current Texas state lawmakers — told Sidley Management Committee Chair Yvette Ostolaza that it believed the law firm “had complicit in “illegal abortions” performed in the state. The letter did not provide details about those claims or Sidley’s role.

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A spokesperson for Sidley and the caucus did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the letter.

The caucus said Sidley may be in violation of a Texas law that allows civil suits against those who ‘aid and abet’ abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually in the sixth week of pregnancy. pregnancy.

“Legal action is already underway to uncover the identities of those who aided or abetted these and other illegal abortions,” the letter said.

The group asked Sidley to retain and retain all records of abortions performed or induced in Texas after the Fetal Heart Rate Act came into force and after the US Supreme Court ruling, including including records relating to company employees who may have helped pay for the proceedings. Such preservation requests can be a precursor to litigation.

Reuters could not confirm whether other law firms with offices in Texas and staff reimbursement policies for abortion-related travel received similar letters, and the caucus did not report any. public others. Vinson & Elkins, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and McDermott Will & Emery are among the law firms in Texas that have adopted such a travel policy.

Several major US companies announced similar travel policies after the Supreme Court ruling on abortion last month. Reuters reported that such perks could expose companies to lawsuits and potential criminal liability.

The Texas Freedom Caucus letter also said lawmakers are planning bills “that will impose additional civil and criminal penalties on law firms that pay for abortions or abortion trips.”

This legislation, according to the letter, will require the state to disbar any Texas attorney who assists someone in obtaining an abortion or violates any other state abortion law.

The legislation would also allow private citizens to sue anyone who pays or reimburses someone for an abortion, the caucus said.

President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order to facilitate access to pregnancy termination services. The order includes an instruction for the White House Attorney’s Office and Attorney General Merrick Garland to “convene a meeting” of attorneys, including those in private practice, to encourage legal representation for those seeking or offering abortion services.

Read more:

Major US law firms begin offering abortion travel benefits after Dobbs decision

Legal clashes await US companies covering workers’ abortion costs

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Jacqueline Thomson

Thomson Reuters

Washington, DC-based Jacqueline Thomsen covers legal news related to politics, the courts, and the legal profession. Follow her on Twitter at @jacq_thomsen and email her at [email protected]

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