A group of Texas Republican state legislators plans to introduce a bill targeting Sidley Austin and other law firms that have made pledges to cover travel expenses for employees seeking abortions in states where the medical service will be unavailable.
The Texas Freedom Caucus said it will introduce legislation in the next session that imposes “additional civil and criminal sanctions on law firms that pay for abortions or abortion travel,” according to a letter sent to Sidley and shared by the caucus on Twitter on Thursday. The letter was addressed to Yvette Ostolaza, the Texas-based chair of Sidley’s management committee, and claimed that the firm was exposing itself to criminal liability.
“A law firm in Texas pledged to reimburse the travel costs of employees who leave Texas to murder their unborn children,” the caucus tweeted. “We are putting them and others on notice of the illegality and consequences of their actions under pre-Roe statutes.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the caucus, chaired by state Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, has sent similar letters to other firms or businesses. Attorney General Merrick Garland said following the US Supreme Court’s decision last month in a Mississippi case that overturned the Roe v. Wade precedent establishing a constitutional right to an abortion that the Justice Department would protect the right to seek abortions across state lines.
Middleton’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on Friday. Sidley couldn’t be reached for comment about the letter.
Sidley has said it will cover abortions and reproductive health travel costs for employees in states where new restrictions are going into effect, according to an email viewed by Bloomberg Law. Several major corporations and at least a quarter of the country’s 100 largest law firms have made similar announcements.
Many of the law firms that have made those pledges have offices in Texas, which last year implemented a law prohibiting abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected and allowed citizens to sue those who aided people in receiving the medical procedure. Texas also had a pre-Roe law essentially banning the procedure that went into effect following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It is currently subject to litigation.
The Texas Freedom Caucus letter says the pending legislation would bar employers from paying for elective abortions or reimbursing abortion-related expenses, regardless of where the abortion took place. It would also require disbarment of Texas attorneys who aid in the procurement of an abortion.
It is not the first time a group of Texas lawmakers have targeted businesses over their abortion-related pledges. A separate set of Republican legislators said in a May letter to Lyft CEO Logan Green that unless the company rescinded its plan to help women seeking an out-of-state abortion, it would introduce legislation targeting companies with similar policies.
A Texas law allows individuals to sue those that “aid and abet” an abortion as early six weeks into a pregnancy, including “paying for or reimbursing the costs of an abortion through insurance or otherwise.” Courts will be left to decide whether those provisions apply to employers’ plans to cover abortion-related travel expenses, Bloomberg Law previously reported.
Sidley, which has offices in Houston and Dallas, has roughly 1,900 lawyers and reported a gross revenue of $2.8 billion in 2021, according to AmLaw data.
—With assistance from Meghan Tribe and Chris Opfer.