Ken Paxton Forced To Testify Under Oath In Abortion Case

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Amid a lawsuit nonprofit organizations supporting reproductive healthcare brought in connection to concerns about potential charges for supporting Texas residents in getting abortions outside the state, a federal judge has now ordered Texas state Attorney General Ken Paxton to sit for testimony.

A process server recently stopped by the Paxton residence to deliver the subpoena, after the plaintiffs’ side in the lawsuit got in touch with Paxton’s team about his prospective testimony. Paxton and his wife, however, got in a truck and left the premises, avoiding the subpoena — until now. A subsequent statement from the top law enforcement official characterized his perception of the process server as seeing what seemed like a “strange man” outside his house, and he claimed he had safety concerns. U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman briefly quashed the subpoena in the aftermath of the incident involving the process server’s failed attempts at serving Paxton, but after continued arguments from the plaintiffs, Pitman reversed course — noting he was apparently misled about the extent of prior knowledge from the state attorney general’s team about the push for testimony.

Pitman said he previously set aside the subpoena “on the assumption that counsel for Paxton had made candid representations to the Court… only to learn later that Paxton failed to disclose Plaintiffs’ repeated emails attempting to inquire as to whether Paxton could testify.” He also spoke to the relevant substance of Paxton’s prospective testimony. The case revolves around concerns from abortion funds, as they’re known, about potential prosecution for financing reproductive healthcare outside the state for Texans who would be restricted in their home locales, despite an apparently lacking clear foundation in state law for such a case — the threat of which Paxton has dangled. “The Court will not sanction a scheme where Paxton repeatedly labels his threats of prosecution as real for the purposes of deterrence and as hypothetical for the purposes of judicial review,” the judge said Tuesday.

Pitman additionally tore into the notion Paxton would be unduly burdened by providing testimony in the case, in which plaintiffs are, as The Texas Tribune explains it, trying to lock down protections against potential prosecution. “It is challenging to square the idea that Paxton has time to give interviews threatening prosecutions but would be unduly burdened by explaining what he means to the very parties affected by his statements,” the judge said. “The burden faced by Plaintiffs—the effective cessation of many core operations—outweighs the burden of testimony faced by Paxton.”

Texas legislators enacted highly restrictive abortion bans designed to take effect in the event the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, including a law making performing an abortion throughout pregnancy except in rare cases a felony punishable by up to life in prison. Those who obtain abortions are broadly shielded from civil and criminal penalties, which is little consolation for those seeking reproductive healthcare. Telling such an individual they won’t be thrown in jail if they finally get such care isn’t exactly a historical model of compassion.