Texas doctor who defied state’s new abortion ban is sued

Two suits challenging Texas law are seen setting up a US Supreme Court test of the abortion ban’s constitutionality.

A new Texas law that took effect on September 1 seeks to ban abortions of fetuses with detectable heartbeats, at about six weeks of pregnancy [File: Lila Engelbrecht/Reuters]

A doctor in the United States who performed an abortion in defiance of a new Texas state law has been hit with a pair of lawsuits following his public admission during the weekend he had violated the new law.

Former lawyers in Arkansas and Illinois filed separate state lawsuits Monday against Dr Alan Braid, who in a weekend Washington Post opinion column became the first Texas abortion provider to publicly reveal he had performed an abortion since the Texas law took effect on September 1.

Dr Braid, of San Antonio, 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.

“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.

Both suits challenge the validity of the Texas law and are likely to set up a test of whether the law can stand after the US Supreme Court allowed it to take effect. In 1973, the US Supreme Court ruled in Roe v Wade women nationwide have a right to abortion. Anti-abortion activists are seeking to overturn that ruling through state laws like Texas, Missouri, Mississippi and others.

The new Texas law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, which is usually around six weeks and before some women know they are pregnant.

Prosecutors cannot take criminal action against Braid, because the Texas law explicitly forbids that. The ban is enforced through lawsuits brought by private citizens, who do not have to be from Texas and who would be entitled to claim at least $10,000 in damages if successful.

The suits were filed by Oscar Stilley, of Cedarville, Arkansas and Filipe Gomez, of Chicago, Illinois.

Oscar Stilley, who described himself in court paperwork as a disgraced former lawyer who lost his law licence after being convicted of tax fraud in 2010, said he is not opposed to abortion but sued to force a court review of the Texas anti-abortion law, which he called an “end-run”.

“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,’” Stilley told The Associated Press.

Felipe Gomez asked a court in San Antonio to declare the new law unconstitutional.

In Gomez’s view, 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 crackdown 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 was not 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.

Both lawsuits against Braid came in before an expected lawsuit Texas’s largest anti-abortion group, which said it had lawyers ready to bring lawsuits.

A federal appeals court is considering whether Missouri can implement sweeping limiting abortions. [File: Jeff Roberson/AP Photo]

“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.

Braid wrote in The Washington Post that on September 6, he provided an abortion to a woman who was still in her first trimester but beyond the state’s new limit.

Two federal lawsuits over the Texas law are already making their way through the courts.

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 US Justice Department is asking a federal judge to declare the law invalid.

Source: AP