A Texas judge on Thursday dismissed the first and only attempt by someone to sue a health care provider for violating the state’s citizen-enforced abortion ban, saying he wouldn’t consider it because the person who filed the lawsuit had no connection to the alleged crime.
The ruling marks the first test of Senate Bill 8, last year’s Texas law banning anyone from aiding or abetting an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. The law was able to survive court challenges because of its unique enforcement mechanism deploying citizens ― not the government ― to sue over any alleged violations. The ban went into effect before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, clearing the way for Texas and other red states to then pass even stricter abortion bans.
But Thursday’s decision by Bexar County Judge Aaron Haas shows that everyday citizens hoping to collect a $10,000 bounty from the state for reporting abortions may need to clear more hurdles.
A person holds a sign at a pro-choice protest in Austin, Texas, earlier this year.
“This is a significant win against S.B. 8’s bounty-hunting scheme because the court rejected the notion that Texas can allow a person with no connection to an abortion to sue,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.
The group was part of the legal team representing the physician named in the lawsuit, Dr. Alan Braid, who wrote in a 2021 opinion piece for The Washington Post that he knowingly violated S.B. 8 weeks after it went into effect by performing an abortion on a patient in her first trimester. Shortly after the article’s publication, Braid was sued by Felipe Gomez, a former Chicago lawyer whose license is suspended and who has no connection to Braid or the patient he served.
“When I provided my patient with the care she needed last year, I was doing my duty as a physician,” Braid said in a statement Thursday. “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.”
Judge Haas determined Thursday that there’s a constitutional standard requiring a plaintiff to prove they were directly impacted by the abortion in order to sue. Though his decision doesn’t strike down S.B. 8, the Center for Reproductive Rights says it’s hopeful the ruling sets an important precedent discouraging more bystanders from following in Gomez’s footsteps.