A Texas man has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against three women who allegedly helped his ex-wife obtain abortion pills and terminate her pregnancy, in the first case of its kind to be brought since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
The lawsuit could signal a new phase in antiabortion strategy, with conservatives scrambling to crack down on growing abortion pill networks that have helped pregnant people access medication abortion in states where the procedure is banned.
The plaintiff, Marcus Silva, is represented by Jonathan Mitchell, a conservative lawyer who was the architect of a novel 2021 Texas abortion ban, and Briscoe Cain, a Republican member of the Texas House. The lawsuit states that helping someone obtain an abortion qualifies as murder under the state’s pre-Roe abortion ban that took effect this summer, allowing Silva to sue under the wrongful-death statute.
Silva’s civil case could result in the women being forced to pay over $1 million in damages. The district attorney in Galveston, Tex., will decide separately whether to charge the women in criminal court.
Silva alleged that in July 2022, when the couple were still married, his wife became pregnant but concealed it from him.
Two of the defendants allegedly exchanged text messages with Silva’s wife, discussing how and where she could obtain the medication to cause an abortion. A third defendant arranged for the delivery of the medication, the complaint alleged.
“We have pills here in Houston,” read a message that one of the women shared with the group, according to the complaint. “So no you wouldn’t have to fly. You could get them from us or your could order some online.”
As the person seeking the abortion, Silva’s ex-wife is exempt from civil and criminal liability, the complaint notes, and Silva is not pursuing any claims against her. The couple divorced last month, according to the court document. None of the three women named as defendants, or their lawyers, could be reached for comment on the accusations.
The complaint said Silva also intends to sue the manufacturer of the mifepristone pill allegedly used in the abortion if that information is made available in discovery.
“Anyone involved in distributing or manufacturing abortion pills will be sued into oblivion,” Cain, one of Silva’s lawyers, wrote in a news release. “That includes CVS and Walgreens if their abortion pills find their way into our state.”
Since the June Supreme Court decision, abortion rights activists have ramped up efforts to ship abortion pills — a two-step regimen of mifepristone and misoprostol that is widely regarded as safe — into states with strict new bans, violating the bans as they work with rapidly expanding international suppliers as well as U.S.-based distributors.
These growing pill pipelines have presented a major challenge for the antiabortion movement. Many prosecutors don’t want to charge people for abortion-related crimes, while others have struggled to find cases.
Abortion pills are usually sent to pregnant people through the mail, making their distribution hard to track. Prosecutors are also limited to bringing charges against people who help facilitate the abortion, with abortion bans currently in effect exempting people seeking abortions from criminal prosecution or legal liability.
Texas has emerged as a hot spot for novel approaches to restrict access to abortion pills. U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, based in Amarillo, could soon rule on a lawsuit filed by antiabortion groups against the Food and Drug Administration that could take mifepristone off the market, a ruling with the potential to upend abortion access nationwide.
Antiabortion groups within the state have also begun their own investigative efforts. Texas Right to Life has created a team of advocates assigned to gather information on citizens who might be distributing abortion pills illegally.
Silva’s complaint includes as exhibits many of the text messages allegedly exchanged among the group of women. In the texts, one person shares information provided by an organization that ships pills that cause abortions and says the woman can take them at her home.
“Your help means the world to me,” responds a woman identified in the complaint as Silva’s ex-wife.
The texts also show discussions about the date of the woman’s last period, what the medication abortion will feel like and when she is planning to take the pills.