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Why this dating app supports a lawsuit challenging Texas' abortion ban

The case, filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of 22 plaintiffs, seeks clarity on exceptions for the state's strict abortion ban.
Why this dating app supports a lawsuit challenging Texas' abortion ban
Posted at 5:48 PM, Nov 29, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-29 17:49:08-05

Bumble, the women-focused dating app headquartered in Austin, Texas, recently joined an amicus brief to show its support of a monumental lawsuit being heard by the Texas Supreme Court that seeks to clarify what qualifies as a medical exemption under the state’s strict abortion law. 

The case, Zurawski v. State of Texas, was filed in March by the Center for Reproductive Rights, a global legal advocacy organization, on behalf of 20 women who said they were forced to carry out their pregnancies because of the state’s abortion ban despite serious risks to their health. 

Two doctors from the Houston area later joined the lawsuit, bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 22 — one of the doctors stating she partially retired from obstetric practice after Roe v. Wade was overturned because she could “no longer practice medicine the way she was trained,” and one feeling the need to speak on behalf of other physicians who are afraid of retaliation. 

Unlike a lot of the other lawsuits that have been filed around the country since Roe v. Wade was overturned, the goal of this one is not to repeal the state's abortion ban — which is one of the most restrictive in the U.S. — but rather to force more clarity on when exceptions are allowed. As the law is written, doctors who perform abortions risk life in prison, loss of medical license and fines of up to $100,000, leading many to not even discuss the procedure, according to court documents. 

SEE MORE: Texas abortion ban may have contributed to births of nearly 10K babies

On Nov. 20, Bumble became the first business to sign onto an amicus brief supporting the case before dozens of other Texas companies joined, representing a wide variety of fields from banking, hospitality, entertainment, horticulture, religion and more. 

“As a multinational, publicly traded tech company led by many women, we feel it’s our duty not just to provide our workforce with access to reproductive health care, but to speak out — and speak loudly — against the retrogression of women’s rights,” said Bumble founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd in a statement on the website of  Reed Smith, the international law firm that filed the amicus brief for Bumble and the other businesses. 

The confusion surrounding exceptions to the abortion ban, known as the Texas Heartbeat Act or SB 8, is “increasing business costs, driving away talent, and threatening workforce diversity and well-being,” according to Herd. 

Bumble executives told magazine Texas Monthly that about one-third of their employees in Austin have left the state of Texas entirely, choosing to work remotely. 

This is something emphasized in the amicus brief, which stated that 44% of young women in Texas are considering moving, or making plans to move to a state with comprehensive reproductive health care protections, and 65% of college-educated workers nationwide said they will not consider a job in a state where politicians are trying to restrict reproductive health care rights. Those numbers are from a 2022 poll conducted by Ms. magazine and the Feminist Majority Foundation. 

Ultimately what the companies are saying is that it’s hard to keep and attract talented workers, and attract business, in a state where doctors might not perform a medically necessary procedure to save someone’s life for fear of reprisal, in what is being described as a hostile abortion landscape. 

The businesses' legal interest in the landmark case adds a thick layer of economic impact to something already stacked high with variables. 

“Bumble's decision to join dozens of signers doing business in Texas shows how damaging abortion bans are for the state's economy,” said the Center for Reproductive Rights Senior Director of Corporate Engagement Julia Taylor Kennedy in a statement to Scripps News. “The unclear medical exceptions in this ban mean it's dangerous to get pregnant in Texas.”

And Bumble isn’t just any business: It’s a business that is designed around forming relationships, which could in turn form families. So, the company said, there’s more at stake for them than the effects on their employment. 

But if the voices of elected officialsmedical professionals and women who say they almost died carrying out pregnancies at the hands of unclear legislation language aren’t loud enough for Texas to clear up the exceptions, businesses like Bumble are hoping maybe talk of monetary loss will be. 

SEE MORE: Texas wants Planned Parenthood to repay millions of dollars

The lawsuit now rests in the hands of Texas’ highest court, which listened to oral arguments for the case Tuesday. 

One justice on the all-Republican panel voiced concerns about potentially giving doctors too broad discretion to provide exceptions. “This very well could open the door far more widely than you’re acknowledging,” Supreme Court Justice Jimmy Blacklock said.

Beth Klusmann with the Office of the Attorney General of Texas argued that the women don’t have standing to sue the state for clarity and should have sued their doctors for medical malpractice instead.

“The state has pointed to any number of other entities that they think can provide clarity here but only the state or a court of the state can provide an interpretation of a statute that is actually enforceable,” said Molly Duane, a lawyer with the Center for Reproductive Rights. 

A decision on the case could take months.


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