First Person Sued by Texas Abortion Law

Charles Edward Miller

Photo By Charles Edward Miller via used by permission under cc-by-sa-20 license.

Safa Hameed

On September 17, Dr. Alan Baird published an opinion-editorial on the Washington Post, where he openly talked about performing an abortion despite Texas’ new restrictive ban, resulting in him being the first ever person sued under the law.

In his article, Baird describes performing an abortion for a woman who, under the new Texas law, is not able to get an abortion as she is past six weeks. He says he came out with this news because “ I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces. I believe abortion is an essential part of health care” Starting his obstetrician-gynecology residency a year before the ruling of Roe v. Wade, he saw many deaths caused by illegal and botched abortion’s resulting in his strong belief in women’s reproductive rights: “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 was sued by two individuals who are both not from Texas. Oscar Stilley is a self-proclaimed “disgraced and disbarred former lawyer” from Arkansas who is serving out a 15 year conviction for federal tax fraud after being found guilty in 2010. He actually describes himself as not being opposed to abortion and has filed the lawsuit in order to test the constitutionality of Texas’s abortion laws in court. However, at the same time he also is not opposed to receiving the $10,000 payout that plaintiffs receive under the law. Felipe N. Gomez, who is a “pro-choice plaintiff” as described by his complaint to the court, has also sued Baird in hopes of forcing the court to review and declare the law unconstitutional.

The law, officially known as Senate Bill 8 (SB8), bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, which is usually at six weeks. The main criticism of this law is that most women don’t even know that they’re pregnant at six week; according to Baird, the law passed shut down 80% of their abortions, highlighting how six weeks is unrealistic for many women seeking abortions. The law also does not exempt special cases for victims of incest or rape that are seeking abortions.

The way law is written to be enforced prohibits action being taken through criminal routes like police investigations and prosecutors–instead it leaves everything in the hands of civilians. The law allows people who, like in the case of Baird, are completely unrelated to the persons involved to sue for having violated the law. This means anyone can sue anyone so long as they have word of that person violating the law. Furthermore, the bill doesn’t allow the woman undergoing the abortion to be sued. Only the people who aid the woman in getting the abortion, ranging from the doctor performing the operation to the person who drove her there. The fact that only private citizens can enforce the law was done deliberately to make sure that the state of Texas can not get sued because state and local officials are not involved in the process.

This lawsuit will provide a pathway for the Senate Bill to be struck down through court ruling. Two other lawsuits have also been making their way slowly through the court system, one being filed by the Justice Department. This is vital considering the first attempt to block the legislation was through an emergency appeal filed by abortion providers which was struck down earlier this year through a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling.

The Center for Reproductive rights is representing Baird in the upcoming lawsuit. Its CEO, Nancy Northup, has expressed the disheartening situation the ban has placed on both healthcare workers and women, “Dr. Baird has been providing health care, reproductive health care, to women for almost five decades, and he’s used to being able to give his patients options, and with the Texas law in place, he is having to turn most of his patients away. The options that he has for them are untenable.”