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A judge in San Antonio has thrown out a lawsuit filed against a Texas abortion provider who intentionally violated a controversial state abortion law.
The law, known as Senate Bill 8, allows anyone to bring a lawsuit against someone who “aids or abets” in an abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy. On Thursday, state District Judge Aaron Haas in Bexar County said people who have no connection to the prohibited abortion and have not been harmed by it do not have standing to bring these lawsuits.
Thursday’s ruling sets an important precedent but does not overturn the law, said Marc Hearron, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights.
When SB 8 went into effect in September 2021, it was the most restrictive abortion law in the nation. The law banned abortions after the detection of fetal cardiac activity, usually around six weeks of pregnancy, a point at which many people don’t yet know they are pregnant.
Almost all of the clinics in the state immediately stopped providing abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. The law’s unique civil enforcement mechanism made it difficult to challenge in court without a test case. Dr. Alan Braid, a San Antonio doctor who had provided abortions in Texas since Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973, decided to intentionally violate the law to attract one of these private lawsuits.
“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 an op-ed in The Washington Post.
Three lawsuits were filed against Braid immediately. Two were never formally served, Hearron said, but one, filed by a Chicago resident named Felipe Gomez, proceeded through the courts. Thursday’s ruling in the Gomez case is the first and only SB 8 case to be resolved in court. Hearron said he anticipated that Gomez, who represented himself, would appeal the decision.
Gomez could not immediately be reached for comment.
In addition to the six-week ban, which is civilly enforced, Texas is also operating under several criminal abortion bans that went into effect after the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. Doctors who provide abortions in Texas can face up to life in prison.
In the wake of those laws going into effect, Braid closed his clinic in San Antonio, as well as its sister facility in Tulsa.
“It is heartbreaking that Texans still can’t get essential health care in their home state and that providers are left afraid to do their jobs,” Braid said in a statement. “Though we were forced to close our Texas clinic, I will continue serving patients across the region with the care they deserve at new clinics in Illinois and New Mexico.”
This story will be updated.
Correction, Dec. 8, 2022: The name of the president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights was misspelled in an earlier version. It is Nancy Northup, not Nancy Northrup.