An online whistleblower portal created to punish anyone providing abortion services in Texas has suffered another defeat in its quest to enforce the state’s new six-week abortion ban as it was forced to disable the function allowing it to collect anonymous tips.
The site, created by the evangelical group Texas Right to Life, had gotten the boot from hosting provider GoDaddy on Friday, but it had found a new home alongside neo-Nazis and white supremacists on Saturday. That’s when Epik, a provider known for hosting right-wing extremist groups, welcomed ProLifeWhistleblower.com to its client roster, according to domain registration data cited by Ars Technica.
By Saturday night, however, even Epik apparently saw the need to impose limits on what ProLifeWhistlerblower.com was doing.
“We contacted the owner of the domain, who agreed to disable the collection of user submissions on this domain,” the statement said.
It was not immediately clear if the anti-abortion site could still solicit anonymous tips via email or other means.
The move is just the latest fallout from the state’s draconian “Texas Heartbeat Act” that took effect on Sept. 1, banning abortions outright after the sixth week of pregnancy—before most women realize they are pregnant. Also known as SB 8, it was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, in May. And while there are loopholes for a mother whose life is in danger, the act does not include exceptions for rape or incest. In addition to targeting doctors who provide abortions, SB 8 also opens the door to lawsuits against insurance companies and even transportation services that might be involved at some point along the way.
To facilitate enforcement of the law, Texas Right to Life set up a digital tip line that lets Texans file anonymous reports about suspected violations.
“The Texas Heartbeat Act is unique because it calls upon private citizens to hold abortion providers and their enablers accountable,” the site explains (emphasis theirs). “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 says it “will ensure that these lawbreakers are held accountable for their actions,” the site continues. “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.”
When a user clicks on the site’s “Send an anonymous tip” button, a brief questionnaire appears asking for details. Users can also upload photos and video of any evidence that supports their claims. “We will not follow up with or contact you,” the site states.
This week, the site was overwhelmed with obviously bogus tips about people like Gov. Abbott seeking abortions, Shrek porn, and countless copies of the screenplay for 2007’s “Bee Movie.” Texas Right to Life reportedly had trouble keeping the site online due to the crush of traffic, an issue that appears to persist. Those attempting to access the site on Saturday from within Texas, as well as points further afield, were regularly met with an error message. When the site did occasionally work, trying to get past the homepage was often impossible.
GoDaddy had informed Texas Right to Life late Thursday that it would no longer be hosted, and to find another provider within 24 hours.
Texas Right to Life communications director Kim Schwartz on Friday wrote a blog post denouncing GoDaddy’s decision to drop the site, complaining that “keyboard warriors harassed GoDaddy” to cut ties with the group.
“We will not be silenced,” Texas Right to Life communications director Kimberlyn Schwartz told The Daily Beast in an email. “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. Anti-Life activists hate us because we’re winning. Hundreds of babies are being saved from abortion right now because of Texas Right to Life, and these attacks don’t change that.”
According to Schwartz, GoDaddy “neglected to specify” which rules the site had broken. But GoDaddy told Ars Technica that “the site violated multiple provisions,” including one that forbids using GoDaddy to “collect or harvest… non-public or personally identifiable information” without “prior written consent.”
The site had then quickly moved to Epik, a hosting provider that has in the past worked with other entities no one else would touch, including alt-right Twitter clone Parler, internet hate speech haven 8Chan, and Gab, the social network favored by Pittsburgh synagogue shooter Robert Bowers.
Epik’s CEO is a Dutch-American businessman in his 50s named Robert Monster—which is indeed his real name. After earning his MBA at Cornell University, Monster, who describes himself as a “Christian Libertarian,” went to work for Procter & Gamble as global product development manager for Pampers baby diapers.
In 2007, he found religion.
“I came to the deeply-researched conclusion that the God of the Bible is in fact the Creator of the Universe, and that the decision to accept the free gift of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ is the path to eternal life,” Monster said in a 2016 interview cited by HuffPost that has now been taken down.
Monster, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, founded Epik two years later. One of Epik’s selling points was that it would work with anyone who could pay, such as Alex Jones, the Sandy Hook truther behind conspiracy site Infowars. (Monster apparently draws the line at The Daily Stormer, a virulently anti-Semitic website he sent packing in 2019.)
For now, Epik is among Texas Right to Life’s only choices. But Schwartz said the group is still “exploring various long-term plans for hosting.”
Texas Right to Life will be celebrating the new law with a “Celebration of Life” on Sept. 18 at the Hilton Americas hotel in downtown Houston. It is selling corporate sponsorships for up to $50,000, according to a flyer for the event.