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Texas judge tosses first lawsuit of ‘bounty hunter’ abortion law


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.”

RELATED: San Antonio doctor says he violated Texas’ six-week abortion ban, inviting a lawsuit

The novel wording of the law, lauded by conservative advocates and legal scholars, helped the state get around federally protected abortion rights by giving the power of enforcement to citizens, rather than the government. That way, opponents could not simply sue the government and get a judge to block the law, and the fear of costly lawsuits would drive doctors to stop providing the procedure.

“We had to find another way,” the bill’s author and personal injury lawyer Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, told Reuters, adding that he thought the law was “a very elegant use of the judicial system.”

Braid said in the op-ed that his purpose in performing the abortion and writing about it was to become a test case.

“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,” he wrote.

READ ALSO: Nearly half of U.S. abortion clinic closures are in Texas since Roe v. Wade was overturned

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.”