FILE - In this Sept. 1, 2021, file photo, Jillian Dworin participates in a protest against the six-week abortion ban at the Capitol in Austin, Texas. Young people on social media have found a way to protest Texas' new law banning most abortions by focusing on a website established by the state's largest anti-abortion group that takes in tips on violations.(Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File)

Texas ‘whistleblower’ website used for snitching on abortions shut down

A website created so people can anonymously snitch on abortions in Texas has been shut down for a second time. ProLifeWhistleblower.com, which was created by anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life, went dark this week, after the group received backlash from abortion rights activists and was sued by Planned Parenthood.

Texas’ so-called “Heartbeat Act,” which bans abortions past six weeks, went into effect Wednesday. Under the legislation, abortions cannot be performed and residents of the state can sue clinics, doctors, nurses and even someone who drives a woman to get the procedure for at least $10,000.

Texas Right to Life created ProLifeWhistleblower.com in July so people can report violations of the Texas Heartbeat Act. Women who receive abortions cannot be sued, but families, friends, counselors, pastors, health care providers and others who help her get the procedure can be.

First, domain hosting service GoDaddy dropped the whistleblower website on Friday night, Texas Right to Life announced in a news release.

“Pro-abortion advocates tried for over a week to overwhelm the website with traffic and fake tips. When they failed, keyboard warriors harassed GoDaddy to take down our site,” the release states.

Viral videos on social media showed abortion rights supporters sending fake tips to the website, according to CBS affiliate KHOU-TV. “They’ve tried to spam our regular website. They’ve tried to shut down prolifewhistleblower.com. They’ve left terrible prank calls,” said Elizabeth Graham, vice president with Texas Right to Life, KHOU reports.

According to the group’s release, GoDaddy emailed them on Thursday saying the site violated the terms of service. “They neglected to specify how,” the group said.

In a statement to CBS News, a representative for GoDaddy said: “On September 2, 2021, we informed prolifewhistleblower.com they had violated GoDaddy’s terms of service and had 24 hours to move to a different provider. The site violated multiple provisions, including but not limited to, Section 5.2 of our terms of service.”

Section 5.2 states: “You will not collect or harvest (or permit anyone else to collect or harvest) any User Content (as defined below) or any non-public or personally identifiable information about another User or any other person or entity without their express prior written consent.”

In their release, Texas Right to Life said it was in the process of obtaining a new domain host.

The site’s registration then listed web hosting company Epik, according to The Washington Post. The site went offline on Saturday and ProLifeWhistleblower.com now redirects to the Texas Right to Life homepage.

In an email to CBS News, a representative for Texas Right to Life said Epik did not drop the site. “ProLifeWhistleblower.com is currently forwarding to TexasRightToLife.com because we’re establishing extra security protocols to protect our users before we put it back up,” the representative said.

“It’s also important to note that Epik is the domain registrar but not our host,” the representative said. “ProLifeWhistleblower.com will be back up soon to continue collecting anonymous tips.”

However, Epik general counsel Daniel Prince said the company would no longer offer its services if the group continues to collect private information about third parties through its digital tip line, according to the Washington Post. CBS News has reached out to Prince and Epik for information and is awaiting response.

Planned Parenthood sued Texas Right to Life and was granted a temporary restraining order against the group on Friday. Under the order, the anti-abortion rights group is banned from bringing lawsuits against Planned Parenthood, abortion provider Dr. Bhavik Kumar, and employees of the Texas health centers under the abortion law’s provisions, according to Planned Parenthood.

Texas Right to Life responded to the judge’s order on Twitter, noting it only applies to those working with the organization. “The order from the Travis Co Judge DOES NOT stop other individuals not associated or working with TRTL from suing,” the group wrote.

Texas Right to Life had set its sights on expanding abortion bans to other states, saying that it “hopes to replicate our success across the nation.”

The Supreme Court failed to act before the Texas law took effect last week, and abortion providers in the state informed women they would no longer offer the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy in compliance with the law. Then, nearly 24 hours later, the high court rejected the request from abortion rights supporters to block the law.

The Court ruled 5 to 4 against providing relief to abortion providers, who had asked the Supreme Court last Monday to put the Texas law on hold.

Author: Caitlin O'Kane / CBS
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