Texas man wants court order to investigate woman’s out-of-state abortion

A Texas man is seeking a court order so he can depose a woman he was dating who traveled to Colorado to get an abortion, in a case that may have ramifications in the ongoing legal battles over abortion rights.

Collin Davis, a resident of Brazos County, filed a legal petition in March stating that on February 20 — the day after he learned the woman intended to obtain the abortion — he retained an attorney, who sent the woman a letter requesting that she preserve all records related to her plans to terminate the pregnancy.

According to the petition, the letter warned that he “would pursue wrongful-death claims against anyone involved in the killing of his unborn child.”

Davis argues that the deposition is necessary to determine whether there was a violation of the Texas wrongful-death statute, which the petition references alongside a Texas civil code that includes among those defined as individuals “an unborn child at every stage of gestation from fertilization until birth.” His petition additionally points to Texas’ civil enforcement six-week abortion ban, known as SB 8.

The woman filed a petition for court records to be sealed so her identity would remain anonymous, her attorney told CNN. She began dating Davis in November 2023 and found out that she was pregnant in January, according to the petition.

The case, which was reported on by The Washington Post on Friday, is being cited by abortion rights supporters who fear that anti-abortion advocates will use — or at least threaten to use — strict abortion laws to target abortions obtained even in states where the procedure is legal. Texas’ law, passed in 2021, targets doctors and those involved in facilitating abortions, not the women who undergo the procedure themselves, but opponents say that legal uncertainty about restrictions in a post-Roe America has the intended consequence of intimidating women.

Davis is seeking the deposition to obtain information about those involved in the abortion, including the identity of the doctor who performed the procedure in Colorado, and he considers filing a lawsuit against all of them, according to the court filings.

Davis is being represented by Jonathan Mitchell, a well-known lawyer and abortion rights opponent who also represented former President Donald Trump in his Colorado ballot case.

Mitchell helped craft SB 8, also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, which uses a novel civil enforcement mechanism to prohibit abortions after fetal cardiac activity is detected, a point usually around six weeks into a pregnancy. Davis cited the law in his petition for the deposition.

CNN has reached out to Davis for comment.

Mitchell said in a statement, “Fathers of aborted fetuses can sue for wrongful death in states with abortion bans, even if the abortion occurs out-of-state. They can sue anyone who paid for the abortion, anyone who aided or abetted the travel, and anyone involved in the manufacture or distribution of abortion drugs.”

Critics decry legal maneuvers

The case is seen by some abortion rights advocates as an example of the new legal landscape facing women who wish to obtain an abortion, even by legal means.

“We don’t think there is a basis (for a lawsuit),” Marc Hearron, an attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the woman, told CNN. “It is perfectly legal to leave Texas or any state and go get an abortion in a state where it is legal. And it is perfectly legal to help someone or be involved in someone going out of state and obtaining an abortion where it is allowed by law.”

Nancy Northup, president & CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn Roe v. Wade “opened the door to this kind of frightening and unacceptable fearmongering and harassment by one citizen against another.”

Mitchell has spearheaded other legal efforts in the wake of Texas’ abortion law. Last June, he represented a man who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against three friends of his ex-wife who allegedly assisted her in terminating her pregnancy with abortion medication, in an early legal test of the reach of wrongful death statutes in the wake of Roe’s reversal. That case has not yet been resolved.

It’s unclear whether Davis’ petition could lead to a lawsuit against the woman, said Drexel University Law Professor David Cohen.

“I definitely don’t think there is a basis for this,” he said. “But we have no confidence to know exactly what the Texas courts will say anymore, at any level.”

Other Republican-led states have sought to pressure women against seeking abortions in other states, particularly minors. Idaho’s legislature last year passed a bill — later blocked by a judge over constitutionality concerns — that would prohibit adults from helping minors cross state lines to get an abortion without parental permission. Meanwhile, Tennessee’s legislature is advancing a law that would similarly criminalize so-called “abortion trafficking” for minors in the state.

“This is all part of a scare campaign to make people afraid that if they go out of state and get an abortion, that they or their loved ones might be sued,” Hearron said. “We really want to emphasize that people should not be intimidated.”

Temple University Beasley School of Law Dean Rachel Rebouché called Davis’ legal maneuver “bizarre and concerning” but said it was not “surprising.”

“I think that we’ll see much more of this in the years to come, so long as Dobbs is in the books. And, frankly, this is exactly the type of example we should point to when we talk about when the Supreme Court should overturn Dobbs,” Rebouché told CNN.

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