Texas state court throws out lawsuit against doctor who violated abortion law

This story originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

A Texas state court has thrown out a lawsuit filed against an abortion provider who intentionally violated a state law prohibiting abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.

Dr. Alan Braid was sued under a law known as Senate Bill 8, which allows private citizens to bring lawsuits against anyone who “aids or abets” in a prohibited abortion. A state court ruled from the bench Thursday that plaintiffs do not have standing to sue if they have not been directly impacted by the abortion services provided, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing Braid.

Thursday’s ruling sets an important precedent but does not overturn the law, said Nancy Northup, the group’s president and chief executive, in a statement.

“This is a significant win against S.B. 8’s bounty-hunting scheme because the court rejected the notion that Texas can allow a person with no connection to an abortion to sue,” Northup said.

When SB 8 went into effect in September 2021, it was the most restrictive abortion law in the nation. The law banned abortions after the detection of fetal cardiac activity, usually around six weeks of pregnancy, a point at which many people don’t even yet know they are pregnant.

Almost all of the clinics in the state immediately stopped providing abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. The law’s unique civil enforcement mechanism made it difficult to challenge in court without a test case. Braid, a doctor who had provided abortions in Texas since Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973, decided to intentionally violate the law to attract one of these private lawsuits.

“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 in an op-ed in the Washington Post.

Braid was sued by at least two different parties. Thursday’s ruling is the first of these cases to be resolved in court.

In addition to the six-week ban, which is civilly enforced, Texas is also operating under several criminal abortion bans that went into effect after the overturn of Roe v. Wade in June. Doctors who provide abortions in Texas can face up to life in prison.

In the wake of those laws going into effect, Braid closed his clinic in San Antonio, as well as the sister facility in Tulsa.

“It is heartbreaking that Texans still can’t get essential health care in their home state and that providers are left afraid to do their jobs,” Braid said in a statement. “Though we were forced to close our Texas clinic, I will continue serving patients across the region with the care they deserve at new clinics in Illinois and New Mexico.”

This story will be updated.

Correction, Dec. 8, 2022: The name of the president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights was misspelled in an earlier version. It is Nancy Northup, not Nancy Northrup.

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