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GoDaddy boots Texas abortion “whistleblower” site for violating privacy rule

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US and Texas flags in front of the Texas state capitol building.
Enlarge / The Texas state capitol.

Getty Images | Bo Zaunders

The Texas Right to Life group will have to find a new hosting provider for its website that encourages people to report violations of the state’s restrictive new anti-abortion law.

GoDaddy took action after Gizmodo reported that Texas Right to Life’s new website, prolifewhistleblower.com, seems to violate a GoDaddy rule that says website operators may not “collect or harvest (or permit anyone else to collect or harvest) any User Content or any non-public or personally identifiable information about another user or any other person or entity without their express prior written consent.” GoDaddy’s terms of service also say that customers cannot use the web hosting platform in a way that “[v]iolates the privacy or publicity rights of another User or any other person or entity, or breaches any duty of confidentiality that you owe to another User or any other person or entity.”

GoDaddy now says that the website has less than 24 hours to find a new hosting provider. “Last night we informed prolifewhistleblower.com they have violated GoDaddy’s terms of service and have 24 hours to move to a different provider,” GoDaddy told Ars in a statement. GoDaddy previously confirmed the action to The New York Times and Newsweek.

GoDaddy told Ars that “the site violated multiple provisions, including, but not limited to, Section 5.2 of our terms of service.” That section is the one that prohibits sites from using GoDaddy to “collect or harvest… non-public or personally identifiable information” without people’s prior written consent.

Update at 6:15 pm ET: Texas Right to Life responded to our inquiry, saying that its “IT team is already in [the] process of transferring our assets to another provider and we’ll have the site restored within 24-48 hours.”

“We will not be silenced,” the group also said. “If anti-lifers want to take our website down, we’ll put it back up. No one can keep us from telling the truth. No one can stop us from saving lives. We are not afraid of the mob. We will not back down.”

Six-week abortion ban encourages “whistleblowers”

The Texas Heartbeat Act took effect on Wednesday, banning abortions after it’s possible to detect a “fetal heartbeat,” which the law defines as “cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.” This effectively bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. The US Supreme Court rejected an emergency request to block the law, but it could still be ruled unconstitutional after litigation.

“Some reproductive rights groups argue that the term ‘heartbeat’ bill is a misnomer, since the fetus does not yet have a heart at six weeks’ gestation—the cardiac activity detectable at that time comes from tissue called the fetal pole, as OB-GYN Jen Gunter has written. Planned Parenthood refers to the bills as “six-week bans,” Vox wrote in its explainer of the Texas law.

The abortion “whistleblower” website is still online as of now. It urges people to help enforce the Texas abortion ban, saying:

Any person can sue any abortion provider who kills an unborn child after six weeks of gestation—and any person can sue anyone who aids or abets these illegal abortions. All of these individuals must pay damages to the person who sued them of at least $10,000 for each illegal abortion that they perform or assist.

Texas Right to Life will ensure that these lawbreakers are held accountable for their actions. Use the links below to report anyone who is violating the Texas Heartbeat Act by aiding or abetting a post-heartbeat abortion. And report any person or entity that aids or abets (or that intends to aid or abet) an illegal abortion in Texas.

Expect a “torrent of lawsuits”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation argued that the Texas law will “unleash a torrent of lawsuits” and that its prohibition on “aiding or abetting” abortion will have a chilling effect on speech protected by the First Amendment.

“SB8 is a ‘bounty law’: it doesn’t just allow these lawsuits, it provides a significant financial incentive to file them,” the EFF wrote. “It guarantees that a person who files and wins such a lawsuit will receive at least $10,000 for each abortion that the speech ‘aided or abetted,’ plus their costs and attorney’s fees. At the same time, SB8 may often shield these bounty hunters from having to pay the defendant’s legal costs should they lose. This removes a key financial disincentive they might have had against bringing meritless lawsuits.”

Opponents of the new abortion law have been flooding the snitch website with fake reports. Texas Right to Life told USA Today that the group “completely anticipated this and [was] prepared for all the trolls coming to the website.”

Sending complaints to GoDaddy turned out to be more effective. But the GoDaddy decision is apparently just a temporary roadblock for the anti-abortion group, as it says it will be able to stay online with a new provider.

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