Lawsuits Follow After Texas Doctor Breaks Abortion Law, Just Not From Who You'd Expect

Pro-choice activists have been protesting Texas' Senate Bill 8, which has halted most in-state abortions since September 1.
Pro-choice activists have been protesting Texas' Senate Bill 8, which has halted most in-state abortions since September 1. Screenshot
In the days since San Antonio Dr. Alan Braid’s announcement in the Washington Post that he’d performed an illegal abortion flouting Texas’ controversial “heartbeat bill,” the first two lawsuits filed against him came from pro-choice advocates hoping to block the law, not anti-abortion activists.

Meanwhile, Texas’ most ardent abortion foes have so far stayed on the sidelines, warning their members to hang back and not take Dr. Braid’s bait.

When San Antonio abortion provider Dr. Alan Braid effectively declared of war against Texas’ anti-abortion regime in his Saturday op-ed in the Post, he admitted he was hoping to get sued over the matter.

“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, describing his decision to perform an abortion earlier this month for a pregnant San Antonio woman whose fetal ultrasound showed a flickering heartbeat.

Senate Bill 8, Texas’ recently enacted “heartbeat bill,” has effectively halted the majority of abortions in the state since September 1. The law allows any person to sue any doctor for up to $10,000 who provides an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which typically happens around six weeks of pregnancy and long before most women realize they’re pregnant. Anyone who aids or abets someone who receives such an abortion is also liable to be sued for a $10,000 bounty under the new law.

One of Texas’ largest anti-abortion groups, Texas Alliance for Life, has decided not to get involved in what their leader described as Braid’s intentional attempt to try and get Texas’ recently enacted abortion ban blocked by the courts.

“We were expecting one or more of the abortion providers in Texas to throw down the gauntlet and invite a lawsuit,” Texas Alliance for Life Director Joe Pojman told the Houston Press. Pojman said his group isn’t planning to file a lawsuit against Braid, and isn’t encouraging its members to do so either.

“We were expecting one or more of the abortion providers in Texas to throw down the gauntlet and invite a lawsuit." — Joe Pojman, Executive Director of Texas Alliance for Life

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Texas Right to Life, another major Texan anti-abortion group, did not respond to a request for comment from the Press about Braid’s admission that he’d performed an illegal abortion. But the organization’s director Jay Seago told the Post in a statement that the two recently filed lawsuits against Braid were nothing more than “self-serving legal stunts.”

“We believe Braid published his op-ed intending to attract imprudent lawsuits, but none came from the pro-life movement,” Seago told the Post.

Instead, the two lawsuits came from non-Texans — coincidentally, both disbarred attorneys — who each claimed they wanted to help get the legal ball rolling toward hopefully challenging the constitutionality of the most restrictive abortion law in the country.

The first person to sue Braid, Oscar Stilley of Arkansas, told the New York Times in an interview that he supports women having the choice to get abortions, and filed his suit hoping it could help determine whether the law violates the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court precedent protecting women’s right to terminate pre-viability pregnancies as established by Roe v. Wade.

“The thing that I’m trying to vindicate here is the law. We pride ourselves on being a nation of laws. What’s the law?” Stilley told the Times. That said, Stilley admitted his intent in filing the lawsuit wasn’t totally altruistic. “I’m going to get an answer either way. If this is a free-for-all, and it’s $10,000, I want my $10,000,” he said.

The second person who filed a lawsuit against Braid isn’t seeking the $10,000 bounty like Stilley. That plaintiff is Felipe Gomez, an Illinois resident who wrote in his suit that he only seeks to have Texas’ law declared unconstitutional “and in violation of Roe v. Wade.”

Senate Bill 8 is also under fire from President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice; Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the Justice Department had sued Texas over the law earlier this month. While a federal judge rejected a request from the feds to immediately block the law from being enforced, a hearing on that federal lawsuit is currently scheduled for October 1.

Pojman told the Press he and his organization are definitely celebrating the fact that Senate Bill 8 has already prevented an untold amount of abortions in Texas since it went into effect at the beginning of September. That said, he admitted his group has been more focused on a separate law passed by the state Legislature earlier this year which would immediately make all abortions illegal in Texas if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to overturn Roe. V. Wade.

The nation’s highest court recently refused a last minute request from pro-choice advocates to block Senate Bill 8 from going into effect, and its justices are set to consider a case from Mississippi later this year that abortion foes hope might lead the court to throw out Roe v. Wade for good.

“The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for December 1, and we are really, extremely interested to see how that pans out. I expect to take some of my staff up to D.C. and just observe,” Pojman said. He said he realizes a decision in that case likely wouldn’t come until June of next year.

According to Pojman, the U.S. Supreme Court “has announced that it is considering the entire question of whether it’s possible to have a ban on abortions before viability” by deciding to take on the Mississippi case, which concerns a currently blocked state law attempting to ban abortions before 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Whether Texas’ Senate Bill 8 is ultimately found constitutional or whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority overturns Roe v. Wade and triggers the “human life protection act” that would ban all abortions in Texas, Pojman said the fact that both of these laws were able to even make it through the legislature shows how far the anti-abortion movement has come in Texas.

In years past, even our ardently anti-abortion Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick thought a heartbeat bill in Texas wouldn’t be able to get passed into law despite Republican majorities in the House and Senate. But after Democrats face-planted in their attempt to win control of the Texas House in 2020, Pojman said anti-abortion lawmakers finally felt emboldened to approve such hard-line measures.

“There was really a sea change when the ‘blue wave’ that was supposed to wash away a number of Republican House members ended up crashing on the rocks and going nowhere,” Pojman said. “And that was the signal for the leadership in the House and Senate and for rank-and-file members in the House and Senate who are pro-life to confidently pass these measures.”

“We’ll have to see, but I believe that those members who supported these strong pro-life measures will be rewarded at the polls in 2022,” Pojman said.
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Schaefer Edwards is a staff writer at the Houston Press who covers local and regional news. A lifelong Texan and adopted Houstonian, he loves NBA basketball and devouring Tex-Mex while his cat watches in envy.
Contact: Schaefer Edwards