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Doctor Who Defied State's Abortion Law Is Sued, Launching A Legality Test Of The Ban


Abortion rights activists found a way to get the Texas abortion law into court. This law took effect early this month, banning abortions after six weeks. The Supreme Court declined to block it because of its creative enforcement provision - inviting ordinary citizens to sue people who assisted with abortions in any way. There were no state officials to sue over it. But now a doctor has declared that he deliberately violated the law, which has triggered lawsuits against him.

NPR's Sarah McCammon has been following this. Sarah, good morning.


INSKEEP: Who is the person who invited the lawsuits?

MCCAMMON: His name is Dr. Alan Braid, and he's an abortion provider from San Antonio. Over the weekend, he wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post in which he said he had intentionally violated the law in an effort to provoke a legal challenge. He calls the law blatantly unconstitutional. And in that op-ed, Braid said, quote, "I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care."

So, Steve, he is now facing at least two lawsuits. And remember, SB8 bans most abortions in Texas. It lets anyone file lawsuits against abortion providers or anyone else believed to have been involved in an illegal abortion under the law. And penalties for violations start at $10,000. That money goes to whoever successfully files a lawsuit. So there is a lot of incentive for people to do so. And that is what is beginning to happen at least in one of these cases.

INSKEEP: I guess now we find out who would be out there wanting to sue over an abortion.

MCCAMMON: Exactly. One of those people so far is an Arkansas man named Oscar Stilley. In the filing, he describes himself as a, quote, "disbarred and disgraced" former lawyer who is currently in house arrest serving a 15-year federal sentence for tax evasion and conspiracy charges. Still, he told The Washington Post that he didn't file this lawsuit because of any strongly held beliefs about abortion but largely because he was hoping to collect the money. He's asking a court to order Dr. Braid to pay him as much as $10,000, but he says at least - I'm sorry - as much as $100,000, but he says at least $10,000. The other suit, Steve, was filed by a man from Chicago named Felipe Gomez. He describes himself as pro-choice and says he's using this complaint to ask the courts to invalidate the Texas law.

INSKEEP: That's interesting. Apparently, anti-abortion groups haven't had anybody step forward. They're just filing a lawsuit - there would be (ph) somebody who politically agrees with them.

MCCAMMON: Yeah. And so they're not exactly pleased with this outcome. Abortion rights opponents hoped that the prospect of these penalties and litigation would stop Texas abortion providers from performing abortions beyond the limit in the law. Most providers say they are complying with it - but not Dr. Braid. And he is, of course, now facing these two lawsuits. About that, Texas Right to Life, which pushed hard for the law, released a statement saying, quote, "both cases are self-serving legal stunts abusing the cause of action created in the Texas Heartbeat Act for their own purposes."

INSKEEP: Although the ultimate effect is someone is following the letter of the law, and the law has ended up in court, which is the thing the law was designed not to be - in court.

MCCAMMON: Right. And I talked to Mary Ziegler about this. She's a Florida State University law professor. And she says these anti-abortion rights groups who backed SB8 hoped it would prompt lawsuits from like-minded people. Now that it's taken effect, it's being used in other ways.

MARY ZIEGLER: As a vehicle for getting rid of the law or just a vehicle for collecting money - and neither of those things, I think, are what Texas Right to Life had in mind. The problem, of course, is when you have a law where anyone can sue for any reason, there is no guarantee that they'll share the aims of Texas Right to Life.

MCCAMMON: And there are several ongoing challenges to this law, including one from the Biden administration. This is just more - one more way this could be tested in court.

INSKEEP: Sarah, thanks.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.