A pro-choice group is celebrating a Texas court‘s dismissal of a case brought against a doctor accused of performing an abortion after a fetal heartbeat had been detected.
Last year, Texas enacted S.B. 8, which allows citizens to sue doctors or anyone assisting in an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is usually between six and eight weeks of pregnancy. The lawsuit involves civil penalties, not criminal.
The Center for Reproductive Rights said the case dismissed Thursday — which appears to be the only one actively being litigated involving the state’s heartbeat law — provides an important precedent.
“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,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The court’s move, though, doesn’t strike down the Texas law.
The ruling came from the bench, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which said the judge ruled that someone who does not have a direct connection to the abortion cannot bring a lawsuit.
The judge will issue a written order within the coming week, the group noted.
The case was brought against Dr. Alan Braid, who performed an abortion on a woman in September 2021, six days after the state’s law went into effect.
“When I provided my patient with the care she needed last year, I was doing my duty as a physician,” said Dr. Braid. “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.”
Dr. Braid was represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The Texas law prohibits abortion providers in the state from performing an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually as early as six weeks of gestation. Typically a fetal heartbeat is detected on a sonogram at between six and eight weeks of pregnancy.
Under the new restrictions, an abortion provider can only perform an abortion past the limit if there is a medical emergency for the pregnant woman, which must be thoroughly documented in written records kept by the clinic.
Ultimately, it is up to the abortion provider to halt any abortion procedure if a fetal heartbeat is detected.
If a provider ignores the heartbeat and continues the procedure, the provider would be subject to a civil lawsuit brought by any individual — not the state — for violating the legislation, known as SB 8.
If an individual successfully sues an abortion provider or anyone else who assisted a person in obtaining an unlawful abortion in violation of SB 8, the court can reward $10,000 to the plaintiff who brought the case.
Critics of the law have claimed this creates a bounty on abortion providers and leads to vigilante justice.
Courts — including the Supreme Court — have refused to block the Texas law, which took effect Sept. 1, 2021.
Months later, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overruled Roe v. Wade, the 1973 precedent that gave women a national right to abortion.
The issue of abortion was then sent back to state legislatures, where many red states have moved to severely curtain — or outright ban — the procedure.