An abortion provider in Texas took the unusual step Tuesday of asking a federal judge in another state to declare unconstitutional the six-week-ban on the procedure that took effect last month in Texas.
Lawyers for Dr. Alan Braid, a San Antonio physician who acknowledged performing an abortion after the state’s legal limit, wants a judge in Illinois to block three lawsuits filed against him under the ban, which has halted almost all abortions in the nation’s second-most-populous state.
Abortion providers and advocates say they are in “legal limbo,” after twice asking the Supreme Court to intervene to block enforcement of the law, which bars abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy with no exception for rape or incest.
They are awaiting action in the three lawsuits against Braid, as well as word from a federal judge in Austin, who could rule at any time on the Justice Department’s request for an injunction to restore abortion access in Texas.
“Dr. Braid filed suit today to stop the vigilante plaintiffs and get this extreme abortion ban declared unconstitutional once and for all,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.
“He should never have had to put himself at legal risk to provide constitutionally protected abortion care. This legal limbo has gone on long enough and needs to be stopped.”
Braid came forward last month, announcing in a Washington Post column that he had performed an abortion past the legal limit and essentially inviting a lawsuit so he could directly challenge the constitutionality of the ban.
Three individuals — one in Arkansas, one in Texas and another in Illinois — quickly filed lawsuits against Braid in state court in Texas.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, representing Braid, now wants to consolidate the “competing claims” in those cases in federal court in Illinois.
Braid’s lawyers say they can take this step because three different people in three different states have filed similar claims to an award of at least $10,000.
“The likelihood of strangers filing multiple, overlapping lawsuits against a provider is a feature of SB8, and not an accident,” the court filing states, making reference to the law, which was formally classified as Senate Bill 8.
Braid said that none of the individuals has a right to damages because the law is unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing the right to abortion before viability, usually around 22 to 24 weeks.
Braid also has a right, the filing states, “to avoid wasteful, vexatious and duplicative litigation and potentially conflicting rulings.”
See here, here, and here for some background. I knew about the Arkansas and Illinois lawsuits against Dr. Braid, but had not been aware of the third one. Looking at the defendants named in the filing, it appears that the third litigant is one of the frequent commenters here. I’ll let him explain himself about that.
These lawsuits are all in state court. There is also the bottleneck imposed by the Texas Multidistrict Litigation Panel (supported by the Supreme Court) on lawsuits by providers to get injunctions against other potential litigants, but from my read of the lawsuit that does not appear to be at issue here. The larger point is that not just Dr. Braid but every abortion patient and provider and clinic employee and volunteer and many other people have a right to their day in court, and to have a clearly unconstitutional law be put on hold while legal questions surrounding it are being decided. That’s what is being asked for here, and that is what has been denied all these people by SCOTUS, the Fifth Circuit, and the Supreme Court of Texas. If this is what it takes to finally bring a (temporary) halt to this travesty then so be it, but it should never have come to this in the first place.
UPDATE: Late in the day yesterday, the judge in the federal lawsuit filed by the Justice Department against the state of Texas issued a temporary restraining order that blocks any SB8 lawsuits from being filed. We all know that the Fifth Circuit already has an order ready to block that, but for now that would seem to moot this action. I’ll post about this ruling tomorrow.