Texas court dismisses case against doctor who violated state's abortion ban

PHOTO: In this Oct. 8, 2022, file photo, abortion rights demonstrators chant and hold signs during a Womens March in Austin, Texas.PlayBloomberg via Getty Images, FILE
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A Texas court dismissed a lawsuit Thursday against a doctor accused of providing an abortion to a woman despite the state's strict ban on the procedure.

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Dr. Alan Braid performed the abortion for a patient in early September 2021, just five days after S.B.8 went into effect, which bans abortion after six weeks' gestation. The patient's pregnancy was further along than six weeks.

PHOTO: In this Aug. 16, 2022, file photo, a recovery room sits empty at Alamo Womens Reproductive Services in San Antonio, Texas. Callaghan OHare/Reuters, FILE
In this Aug. 16, 2022, file photo, a recovery room sits empty at Alamo Women's Reproductive Services in San Antonio, Texas.

However, Bexar County Judge Aaron Haas said he was throwing out the case, dealing a major blow to the Texas law that allows citizens to sue anyone who aids a patient in receiving abortion care, including physicians. Federal courts -- including the U.S. Supreme Court -- had previously declined to block S.B. 8, saying they were powerless to block the law.

Several overlapping Texas laws ban nearly all abortions, including in cases of rape or incest. The only exception is if the mother's life or health is in danger.

S.B.8 allows any private citizen to sue anyone who performs an abortion or assists a pregnant person in obtaining the procedure. The law awards a minimum of $10,000 to any citizen who successfully sues an abortion provider, healthcare worker or anyone who helps someone get access to abortion care.

PHOTO: In this Oct. 8, 2022, file photo, demonstrators gather and march outside the 1910 Harris County Courthouse in Houston, Texas. Reginald Mathalone/NurPhoto via AP, FILE
In this Oct. 8, 2022, file photo, demonstrators gather and march outside the 1910 Harris County Courthouse in Houston, Texas.

In an op-ed written for The Washington Post last year, Braid said he acted despite the ban because had a "duty to care."

"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," he wrote.

Braid had three lawsuits filed against him -- one by disbarred Illinois attorney Felipe Gomez in Texas, one in Arkansas and a third in Illinois -- but only the Texas case was taken up.

On Thursday, the court announced it was dismissing the suit and ruled that Gomez does not have the legal right to sue because he was not been directly affected by the abortion care being provided. A written order is expected to come within a week.

It is the first and only active lawsuit against a provider to be resolved by a court since S.B.8 went into effect.

Additionally, the court said it would make a ruling in the next week about whether the part of the law that allows citizens to sue violates the state's constitution.

"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, which is co-representing Braid, said in a statement.

"But this dismissal did not provide the opportunity to strike down S.B. 8 overall, and in the wake of the Dobbs decision, Texas is enforcing multiple abortion bans. As a result, pregnant Texans with life-threatening obstetric emergencies are being turned away from hospitals. No one should have to be near death just to get the health care they need," the statement continued.

PHOTO: In this Oct. 8, 2022, file photo, abortion rights demonstrators chant and hold signs during a Womens March in Austin, Texas. Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE
In this Oct. 8, 2022, file photo, abortion rights demonstrators chant and hold signs during a Women's March in Austin, Texas.

In a press call on Thursday, the Center's senior counsel, Mark Hearron, told reporters that Braid has been forced to close his practices in Texas and Oklahoma and is providing care in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and in Illinois.

Since the Supreme Court's decision to reverse Roe, at least 12 states have ceased nearly all abortion services.

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, Texans face the longest travel times in the country to get access to abortion care. They are forced to travel over seven hours each way for access.

"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. "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. 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."