I’d forgotten this was still a thing, it had been so long since it was filed.
In the first test of the Texas law that empowers private citizens to sue for a minimum of $10,000 in damages over any illegal abortion they discover, a state judge Thursday dismissed a case against a San Antonio abortion provider, finding that the state constitution requires proof of injury as grounds to file a suit.
Ruling from the bench, Bexar County Judge Aaron Haas dismissed the suit filed by Chicagoan Felipe Gomez against Dr. Alan Braid who had admitted in a Washington Post op-ed that he violated the state’s then-six-week ban, Senate Bill 8, which allows for civil suits against anyone who “aids or abets” an unlawful abortion.
Thursday’s ruling does not overturn the law or preclude similar suits from being filed in the future, lawyers for Braid said Thursday. Nor does it change the almost-total ban on abortion that went into effect in Texas when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal abortion protections earlier this year.
“This is the first SB 8 case that has gone to a ruling, a final judgment,” said Marc Hearron, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which was part of Braid’s legal team. “It doesn’t necessarily stop other people from filing SB 8 lawsuits, but what we expect is other courts, following this judge’s lead, would say if you weren’t injured, if you’re just a stranger trying to enforce SB 8, courts are going to reject your claims because you don’t have standing.”
Haas said in court he would issue a written order in the next week, Hearron said. Gomez declined to comment until the ruling is finalized, though he said he would appeal the ruling. Gomez, who had no prior connection to Braid according to court filings, has said that he believed SB 8 was “illegal as written” given that Roe v. Wade hadn’t yet been overturned at the time, and he requested the court declare it unconstitutional.
Gomez told the Chicago Tribune after filing the suit that his purpose was not to profit from it, but rather to highlight the hypocrisy of Texas lawmakers when it comes to mandates on the state’s citizens.
“Part of my focus on this is the dichotomy between a government saying you can’t force people to get a shot or wear a mask and at the same time, trying to tell women whether or not they can or can’t get an abortion,” Gomez said. “To me, it’s inconsistent.”
The law, which was the most restrictive abortion law in the country when it went into effect in September 2021, purports to give anyone the standing to sue over an abortion prior to six weeks of pregnancy, which is before most patients know they’re pregnant.
The state later banned virtually all abortions except those that threaten a mother’s life, with violations by anyone who provides the procedure or assists someone in obtaining one punishable by up to life in prison. Abortion patients are exempt from prosecution under the law.
Haas agreed with plaintiffs that the constitutional standard is that a person must be able to prove they were directly impacted to sue over an abortion, Hearron said.
See here, here, and here for the background. According to the Trib, there were three lawsuits filed against Dr. Braid, but this was the only one served to him, so I believe that means there are no other active lawsuits of this kind still out there. It’s a little wild to look back and realize that this awful law ultimately led to so little direct action, but it most definitely had a chilling effect, and it set a terrible precedent that SCOTUS shrugged its shoulders at in the most cowardly way possible.
Dr. Braid’s intent, in performing the abortion and writing the op-ed that practically invited these lawsuits, was to challenge SB8’s legality on the grounds that Roe v Wade was the law of the land and thus SB8 was facially unconstitutional when it was passed. You could still make that argument now – a similar lawsuit in another state (I’m blanking on the details) hinged on that same point and prevailed in court – but in the end it wouldn’t much matter, as Texas’ so-called “trigger” law has gone even farther than SB8 did. I’m also not sure that Judge Haas’ ruling will stand on appeal, since it seems clear that the point of SB8 was that literally anyone had the standing to sue. But maybe the Texas Supreme Court will agree that “standing” does mean something less expansive than that. Again, it’s basically an academic exercise now, but you never know. And if anything about this makes the forced-birth caucus in the Lege unhappy, they’ll just pass another law to get what they want. My head hurts. Reform Austin has more.