Texas Abortion and Social Media Laws Are a ‘Contradictory Mess’
Bad Texas regulations could be at odds with each other. The new Texas abortion ban may contradict the mandates of social media regulation passed by the Texas Legislature. Under the mandates of the two statutes, social media platforms could be required to both take down and leave up information about abortion, Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick points out.
Similar to a law that was passed—and blocked—in Florida, H.B. 20 is designed to treat social media platforms like common carriers (such as phone and cable companies).
A “blatantly unconstitutional bill,” H.B. 20 “tries to prevent social media websites from moderating content,” writes Masnick. “While the bill does include some language to suggest that some content can be moderated, it puts a ton of hurdles up to block that process.”
Meanwhile, the new Texas abortion law (Senate Bill 8) prohibits “knowingly engag[ing] in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion, including paying for or reimbursing the costs of an abortion through insurance or otherwise.”And it allows civil lawsuits against those suspected of helping someone get an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
The aiding and abetting provision could be construed to prohibit providing information about where to get an abortion, abortion pills, how to get funding to travel out of state for an abortion, etc.
While S.B. 8 does say “that the aiding and abetting rule should not apply to 1st Amendment protected speech,” Masnick doesn’t see that “making much of a difference in the long run because (1) the 1st Amendment already protects such speech so you don’t need a law to say that and (2) it’s unlikely to stop people from suing over speech that they claim is aiding and abetting…”
The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) also has concerns that the Texas abortion law could target speech about abortion. “In addition to the drastic restrictions it places on a woman’s reproductive and medical care rights, the new Texas abortion law, SB8, will have devastating effects on online speech,” warns EFF:
The law creates a cadre of bounty hunters who can use the courts to punish and silence anyone whose online advocacy, education, and other speech about abortion draws their ire. It will undoubtedly lead to a torrent of private lawsuits against online speakers who publish information about abortion rights and access in Texas, with little regard for the merits of those lawsuits or the First Amendment protections accorded to the speech. Individuals and organizations providing basic educational resources, sharing information, identifying locations of clinics, arranging rides and escorts, fundraising to support reproductive rights, or simply encouraging women to consider all their options—now have to consider the risk that they might be sued for merely speaking. The result will be a chilling effect on speech and a litigation cudgel that will be used to silence those who seek to give women truthful information about their reproductive options.
So what happens if someone posts to a Texas Facebook group about how or where to get an abortion after six weeks?
“Until the courts actually rule on this, we don’t just have a mess, we have a contradictory mess thanks to a Texas legislature (and governor) that is so focused on waging a pointless culture war against ‘the libs’ that they don’t e
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