Texas abortion case: Doctor sued in first known challenges under new law
- Two federal lawsuits were already making their way through the courts over the law
- It is still proceeding in the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals
- Braid said that he provided an abortion to a woman who was still in her first trimester
A doctor from San Antonio, who said that he performed an abortion in defiance of a new Texas law all but dared supporters of the state's near-total ban on the procedure to try making an early example of him by filing a lawsuit, as many as two people has obliged.
On Monday, former attorneys in Arkansas and Illinois filed separate state lawsuits against Dr Alan Braid, who in a weekend opinion column became the first Texas abortion provider to publicly reveal he violated the law that took effect on September 1.
They both came in ahead of the state's largest anti-abortion group, which had said it had attorneys ready to bring lawsuits. Neither ex-lawyer who filed suit said they were anti-abortion. But both said courts should weigh in.
According to reports, the Texas law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, which is usually around six weeks and before some women even know they are pregnant.
The law explicitly forbids that the prosecutors cannot take criminal action against Braid. The only way the ban can be enforced is through lawsuits brought by private citizens, who don't have to be from Texas and who are entitled to claim at least $10,000 in damages if successful.
Oscar Stilley, who described himself in court paperwork as a disgraced former lawyer who lost his law license after being convicted of tax fraud in 2010, said he is not opposed to abortion but sued to force a court review of Texas’ anti-abortion law, which he called an "end-run".
Speaking to Associated Press, Stilley, of Cedarville, Arkansas, near the Oklahoma border said, "I don't want doctors out there nervous and sitting there and quaking in their boots and saying, 'I can't do this because if this thing works out, then I'm going to be bankrupt.'"
Felipe N. Gomez, of Chicago, asked a court in San Antonio in his lawsuit to declare the new law unconstitutional. According to Gomez, the law is a form of government overreach. He said his lawsuit is a way to hold the Republicans who run Texas accountable, adding that their lax response to public health during the COVID-19 pandemic conflicts with their crack down on abortion rights.
"If Republicans are going to say nobody can tell you to get a shot they shouldn't tell women what to do with their bodies either," Gomez said. "I think they should be consistent."
Gomez said he wasn't aware he could claim up to $10,000 in damages if he won his lawsuit. If he received money, Gomez said, he would likely donate it to an abortion rights group or to the patients of the doctor he sued.
Legal experts say Braid's admission is likely to set up another test of whether the law can stand after the Supreme Court allowed it to take effect.
“Being sued puts him in a position … that he will be able to defend the action against him by saying the law is unconstitutional,” said Carol Sanger, a law professor at Columbia University in New York City.
On September 6, Braid wrote that that he provided an abortion to a woman who was still in her first trimester but beyond the state's new limit.
"I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn't get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested," Braid wrote.
Two federal lawsuits were already making their way through the courts over the law, known as Senate Bill 8. In one, filed by abortion providers and others, the Supreme Court declined to block the law from taking effect while the case makes its way through the legal system.
It is still proceeding in the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals. In the second case, the Justice Department is asking a federal judge to declare the law invalid, arguing it was enacted "in open defiance of the Constitution".
In 1973, the US Supreme Court issued its Roe v. Wade ruling, which established a nationwide right to abortion at any point before a fetus can survive outside the womb, generally around 24 weeks.
(With inputs from the associated Press)