Women protest against Texas abortion law Photograph:( AFP )
Even before his disclosure, Braid, who has operated abortion clinics in Houston and San Antonio as well as in Oklahoma, was already challenging the law in court. His clinics were among the plaintiffs in a pending federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the measure
A Texas doctor disclosed Saturday that he had performed an abortion in defiance of a new state law that bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, setting up a potential test case of one of the most restrictive abortion measures in the nation.
In an opinion essay published in The Washington Post under the headline “Why I violated Texas’s extreme abortion ban,” the doctor, Alan Braid, who has been performing abortions for more than 40 years, said that he performed one Sept. 6 for a woman who, although still in her first trimester, was beyond the state’s new limit.
“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.”
Braid’s disclosure was the latest — and perhaps most direct — salvo by supporters of abortion rights who have been fighting to stop the law, which prohibits most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, before many women are even aware that they are pregnant. The law makes no exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
Even before his disclosure, Braid, who has operated abortion clinics in Houston and San Antonio as well as in Oklahoma, was already challenging the law in court. His clinics were among the plaintiffs in a pending federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the measure.
On Sept. 1, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision prompted by the lawsuit, declined to immediately block Texas’ new law. The majority stressed that it was not ruling on the law’s constitutionality and did not intend to limit “procedurally proper challenges” to it.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department asked a federal judge to issue an order that would prevent Texas from enforcing the law, known as Senate Bill 8, which was passed with the strong support of the state’s Republican leaders.
The Justice Department argued in its emergency motion that the state adopted the law “to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights,” reiterating an argument the department made last week when it sued Texas to prohibit enforcement of the contentious legislation.
At the centre of the legal debate over the law is a mechanism that essentially deputizes private citizens, rather than government officials, to enforce the new restrictions by suing anyone who either performs an abortion or “aids and abets” the procedure. Plaintiffs who have no connection to the patient or to the clinic may sue and recover legal fees, as well as $10,000 if they win. Patients themselves cannot be sued.
“I understand that by providing an abortion beyond the new legal limit, I am taking a personal risk, but it’s something I believe in strongly,” Braid wrote.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is already representing Braid in his clinics’ pending lawsuit, said in a statement that he had “courageously stood up against this blatantly unconstitutional law.”
“We stand ready to defend him against the vigilante lawsuits that SB 8 threatens to unleash against those providing or supporting access to constitutionally protected abortion care,” she said in a statement.
A representative for Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the measure into law, and Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion group that had been seeking tips on any doctors who might be violating the new law, did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment Saturday.
In an interview Saturday, Braid declined to say whether the woman whose abortion he performed Sept. 6 had been informed that her procedure could be part of a test case against the new law. “I’m not going to answer any questions about the patient in any way,” he said.
He said that he had consulted with lawyers from the Center for Reproductive Rights and hoped that, by publicly stating that he had performed an abortion, he might contribute to the campaign to invalidate the law.
“I hope the law gets overturned,” he said, “and if this is what does it, that would be great.”
In his opinion essay, Braid noted that his career began with an obstetrics and gynaecology residency at a San Antonio hospital on July 1, 1972, just before Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.
“At the hospital that year, I saw three teenagers die from illegal abortions,” he wrote. “One I will never forget. When she came into the E.R., her vaginal cavity was packed with rags. She died a few days later from massive organ failure, caused by a septic infection.”
Roe v. Wade, he wrote, “enabled me to do the job I was trained to do.” Then, this month, “everything changed” with the Supreme Court decision not to block the Texas law.
“I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces,” Braid wrote. “I believe abortion is an essential part of health care. I have spent the past 50 years treating and helping patients. I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972.”