In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, State Health Officer of the Mississippi Department of Health v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, et. al., employers across the country have faced uncertainty in how to navigate the various federal and state laws regarding health-related services for their employees. This is particularly challenging for employers in states that have laws that provide for criminal liability. The Dobbs decision may impact how employers modify their employee benefit plans or create new plans to cover the cost of travel and lodging for medical care, including abortion, that require travel out of state.
Texas’ bounty law is likely the most novel and we have received many questions on whether a company could face criminal liability under that statute for providing benefits to travel of state. Texas Senate Bill 8 prohibits physicians from performing or inducing abortions if the physician detected a fetal heartbeat or failed to perform a test to detect a fetal heartbeat. Notably, this law authorized a private civil right of action – allowing any individual in the state of Texas to bring a civil action against any person [which while undefined in the Bill, in other contexts in the Texas code, does include corporations] who:
(1) performs or induces an abortion in violation of this subchapter;
(2) knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion through insurance or otherwise, if the abortion is performed or induced in violation of this subchapter, regardless of whether the person knew or should have known that the abortion would be performed or induced in violation of this subchapter; or
(3) intends to engage in the conduct described in subdivision (1) or (2).
See TX SB8 Sec. 171.208
If a company wanted to offer coverage for procuring abortions in other states through its health benefit plans, there are several legal considerations that the company should be aware of. First, under TX SB8 Sec. 171.208 (2), it is unlawful for any individual to aid or abet an individual in procuring an abortion. The Texas statute specifically prohibits “abortion[s] of unborn child[ren] with detectable fetal heartbeat[s]” and outlaws the conduct of physicians that “knowingly perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman if the physical detected a fetal heartbeat.” The statute itself defines a physician as “an individual licensed to practice medicine in this state.” So, the violations referenced in the statute arguably are limited only to those abortions conducted contrary to the statute by Texas physicians. If an organization’s health plan allows, as a benefit, costs to be recovered for traveling to procure an abortion in another state – then that would not be an action that would incur civil liability by a Texas physician. The statute legislates that abortions performed by Texas physicians are unlawful; it does not refer to travel to other states, and no court has yet opined on the scope of the statute in that context. But, even if a lawsuit was brought under that theory, the company could raise the general presumption against extraterritorial application of state law.Continue reading