Debevoise Successfully Defends Provider in Bystander Lawsuit Under Texas Anti-Abortion Law S.B. 8

9 December 2022

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP has secured the dismissal of a lawsuit against Dr. Alan Braid, a Texas physician who provided an abortion to a woman in violation of the state’s recent ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. This is the first and only case filed against a provider under the Texas abortion ban, S.B. 8, to be resolved by a court.

The citizen-enforced ban encourages the general public to file lawsuits against those who provide an abortion or assist someone in obtaining an abortion. The ban awards a minimum of $10,000 to any private citizen who successfully sues an abortion provider, a health center worker, or any person who helps someone access an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy in Texas.

On September 6, 2021, five days after S.B. 8 took effect, Dr. Braid provided abortion care to a Texas woman who was beyond S.B. 8’s six-week limit and was sued as a result. Following arguments by the Debevoise team led by litigation partner Shannon Selden, the court rejected the idea that bystanders can sue abortion providers or helpers, ruling from the bench that a person does not have legal standing to sue if they have not been directly impacted by the abortion services provided. While the ban remains in effect, the ruling sets an important precedent for other courts when considering whether “bounty-hunting” laws violate states’ constitutions.

With abortion banned entirely in 12 states, mostly across the South, Texans face the longest travel times in the country as they are forced to drive an average of over seven hours one-way to reach an abortion provider outside of the state. Pregnant Texans are also being denied care at hospitals in the state despite facing life-threatening conditions. Since S.B. 8 went into effect, maternal morbidity has increased in Texas hospitals. Many other Texans have been unable to travel out of state and have been forced to carry their pregnancies to term or attempt an abortion on their own. The impact has fallen hardest on communities that already face significant barriers to accessing health care, including minority communities and people living on low incomes.

Debevoise represented Dr. Braid alongside the Center for Reproductive Rights and Susman Godfrey LLP. Dr. Braid was forced to close his clinics both in Texas and Oklahoma, but has since opened two new clinics in Illinois and New Mexico.

The Debevoise team was led by Ms. Selden and included litigation associates Meredith Stewart, Ardis Strong, Nicole Marton, Gabrielle McKenzie, Isabelle Glimcher and restructuring associate Rory Heller.