'Can't just sit back': Texas doctor sued after saying he defied abortion ban

Author
AP,
Publish Date
Tue, 21 Sep 2021, 1:10PM
In this Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021 file photo, Barbie H. leads a protest against the six-week abortion ban at the Capitol in Austin, Texas. (Photo / AP)
In this Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021 file photo, Barbie H. leads a protest against the six-week abortion ban at the Capitol in Austin, Texas. (Photo / AP)

'Can't just sit back': Texas doctor sued after saying he defied abortion ban

Author
AP,
Publish Date
Tue, 21 Sep 2021, 1:10PM

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 attorneys in Arkansas and Illinois filed lawsuits Monday against Dr Alan Braid, who in a weekend Washington Post opinion column became the first Texas abortion provider to publicly reveal he violated the law that took effect on September 1.

Under the law, the restriction can only be enforced through private lawsuits.

Oscar Stilley, who described himself as a 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".

"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, of Cedarville, Arkansas, told The Associated Press.

The 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. Prosecutors cannot take criminal action against Braid, because the law explicitly forbids that. The only way the ban can be enforced is through lawsuits brought by private citizens, who are entitled to claim at least US$10,000 in damages if successful.

"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.

Braid wrote 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.

"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.

 In this June 4, 2019, file photo, anti-abortion advocates gather outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis. Photo / AP

In this June 4, 2019, file photo, anti-abortion advocates gather outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis. Photo / AP

Texas Right to Life, the state's largest anti-abortion group, has said it has attorneys ready to bring lawsuits and launched a website to receive tips about suspected violations, though it is currently redirecting to the group's homepage. A spokeswoman for the group has noted that the website is mostly symbolic because anyone can report a violation and because abortion providers appeared to be complying with the law.

Seth Chandler, a law professor at the University of Houston, said anyone suing would "have to persuade a Texas court that they have standing" despite not having personally suffered monetary or property damages.

"The only thing that might have happened is that they're offended by the fact that the abortion has been performed," he said. "But there are a lot of Supreme Court decisions saying that merely being offended is not a basis for a lawsuit, and there are Texas Supreme Court decisions saying we follow federal law on what's called standing."

Braid said in the Post column that he started his obstetrics and gynaecology residency at a San Antonio hospital on July 1, 1972, when abortion was "effectively illegal in Texas". That year, he saw three teens die from illegal abortions, he wrote.

In 1973, the US Supreme Court issued its Roe v Wade ruling, which established a nationwide right to abortion at any point before a foetus can survive outside the womb, generally 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 treating and helping patients. I can't just sit back and watch us return to 1972."

- Jamie Stengle, Associated Press