Jay Janner / Austin American-Stateman via AP
DALLAS – A San Antonio doctor who said he performed an abortion in defiance of a new Texas law has been sued by two people seeking to test the legality of the state’s near-total ban on the procedure.
Former Arkansas and Illinois lawyers filed lawsuits on Monday against Dr Alan Braid, who, in a weekend Washington Post opinion column, became Texas’ top abortion provider to publicly reveal that he had violated the law that came into force on September 1.
By law, the restriction can only be enforced by private prosecution.
Oscar Stilley, who described himself as a former lawyer who lost his lawyer’s license after being convicted of tax evasion in 2010, said he was not opposed to abortion but had filed a lawsuit to force a judicial review of Texas’ anti-abortion law, which he called “the end of the race.”
“I don’t want the doctors to be nervous and sit there and shake in their boots and say, ‘I can’t do this because if it works then I’m going to go broke. “” Stilley, of Cedarville, Arkansas, told The Associated Press.
The law prohibits abortions once healthcare professionals can detect heart activity, which is usually around six weeks and before some women even know they are pregnant. Prosecutors cannot initiate criminal proceedings against Braid, as the law explicitly prohibits it. The only way the ban can be enforced is through lawsuits brought by private citizens, who are entitled to claim at least $ 10,000 in damages if successful.
Legal experts say Braid’s admission is likely to set up yet another test of whether the law can stand after the Supreme Court allows it to come into force.
“Being sued puts him in a position… that he can defend the action against him by saying the law is unconstitutional,” said Carol Sanger, professor of law at Columbia University in New York.
Braid wrote that on September 6, he performed an abortion on a woman who was still in her first trimester but beyond the new state limit.
“I fully understood that there could be legal consequences – but I wanted to make sure Texas didn’t get away with its attempt to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested,” Braid wrote.
There are two federal lawsuits pending in court over the law, known as Senate Bill 8. system. It is still pending before the 5th United States Court of Appeals. In the second case, the Ministry of Justice asks a federal judge to declare the law invalid, arguing that it was promulgated “in open disregard of the Constitution”.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, one of the plaintiffs in the first federal lawsuit, represents Braid.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the center, said they “stand ready to defend it against the lawsuits that SB 8 threatens to unleash against those who provide or support access to safe abortion care. Constitution”.
Braid could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday. His clinic referred interview requests to the center.
Texas Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, said it has lawyers ready to prosecute and launched a website to receive advice on alleged violations, though it is currently redirected to the group’s home page. A spokesperson for the group noted that the website is mostly symbolic because anyone can report a violation and because abortion providers appear to be complying with the law.
The governor’s office did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Monday.
Joanna Grossman, a law professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said if a lawsuit were brought against Braid and it reached the Texas Supreme Court, that court could decide whether the legislature exceeded its powers by allowing anyone to sue.
“The Texas Supreme Court will have the opportunity / obligation to say whether this approach – which would not be limited to abortion – is an acceptable way for the legislature to pursue its goals,” Grossman said.
Seth Chandler, a law professor at the University of Houston, said anyone bringing a lawsuit “should persuade a Texas court that they have standing” although they have not personally suffered any harm. pecuniary or material.
“The only thing that could have happened is that they are offended that the abortion was performed,” he said. “But there are a lot of Supreme Court rulings saying just being offended is not a basis for a lawsuit, and there are Texas Supreme Court rulings saying we are following federal law. on what is called standing. “
Braid said in the Post column that he began his obstetrics and gynecology residency at a San Antonio hospital on July 1, 1972, when abortion was “effectively illegal in Texas.” That year he saw three teenagers die of illegal abortions, he wrote.
In 1973, the United States Supreme Court released its Roe v. Wade, who established a national abortion right any time before a fetus can survive outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks.
“I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces,” Braid wrote. “I believe abortion is an essential part of health care. I have spent the past 50 years caring for and helping patients. I cannot sit idly by and watch us return to 1972.”