(WASHINGTON) — The first tests of Texas’ unprecedented and highly controversial scheme for enforcing a ban on nearly all abortions have come from two non-Texans — both former lawyers disbarred for alleged misconduct who are effectively inviting courts to invalidate the law on constitutional grounds.
Oscar Stilley, a former Arkansas attorney, brought one of the two civil suits filed Monday in Bexar County District Court against a San Antonio abortion doctor who publicly admitted to performing an unlawful procedure. Stilley is in custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons on a 15-year sentence for tax evasion and conspiracy, according to the complaint posted on his personal website.
Felipe N. Gomez, an Illinois attorney, brought the other suit; he is currently suspended from the state’s bar over accusations of sending harassing and threatening emails, records show.
“In some ways the identity of these first plaintiffs highlights the absurdity of the law,” said Kate Shaw, Cardozo School of Law professor and ABC News legal contributor.
“No connection to the issue, no connection to the parties, no connection — as far as we can tell from the complaints — to Texas, at all. And yet, they may well have the ability, the way the law is drafted, to go to court and to have the courts actually hear their case,” she continued.
Gomez is a self-described “pro choice plaintiff,” according to the two-page complaint obtained by ABC affiliate KSAT, and explicitly asked the court to strike the law, SB8, down.
SB8 prohibits abortions after about 6 weeks of pregnancy in Texas and allows “any person, other than an officer or employee of state or local government,” to bring a civil suit against someone believed to have “aided or abetted” an unlawful abortion.
“The statute says that anybody can file a suit. That doesn’t mean that there’s not some state constitutional limitation on who could file a suit,” said Irving Gornstein, executive director of the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown Law Center, “but this person seems to be somebody who has no objection to abortions, he just wants to earn a bounty.”
Stilley, who is seeking to claim a minimum $10,000 reward, and Gomez, who says he is not seeking any financial damages, both sued Dr. Alan Braid, an OB-GYN based in San Antonio, who publicly acknowledged in an op-ed on Sept. 6 that he had performed a first-trimester abortion in express violation of state law.
“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,” Braid wrote. “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.”
The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 on Sept. 1 to allow SB8 to take effect on procedural grounds, despite what the majority acknowledged as “serious questions” about constitutionality. The justices did not address those questions.
Legal experts said the new civil cases are now “vehicles” for state and federal courts to examine the substance of SB8 itself — the near total ban on abortions across the state — and ultimately suspend enforcement of the measure as in violation of longstanding Supreme Court precedent.
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