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Saturday, January 29, 2022

How absurd is Texas’ abortion ban? Look at the ‘disgraced’ vigilantes it inspired.

How low can we go? That’s the question we have been asking ourselves since the U.S. Supreme Court decided earlier this month to allow our ignominious abortion vigilante law to go into effect. The law itself — which violates nearly a half century of Supreme Court precedents and essentially bans abortions in Texas — was bad enough, but state Rep. Briscoe Cain, one of the many sponsors, took the state’s ignominy even lower when he gleefully tweeted out that he now considers himself a “baby-murder bounty hunter.”

Cue the reality TV series.

Cain is referring to a basic provision of the law, known as Senate Bill 8, that essentially deputizes ordinary citizens — in Texas or outside the state — to sue anyone they suspect has engaged in “conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion.” If successful in court, the vigilante — er, plaintiff — will be awarded at least $10,000 per illegal abortion. Presumably, that bounty will be paid by the defendant, in addition to court costs and attorneys’ fees.

Cain, the baby-faced Deer Park Republican, arguably the most inept lawmaker in the Texas Legislature, favors cowboy hats and boots and no doubt envisions himself as a squinty-eyed Man with No Name, a young and relentless Clint Eastwood on the vigilante trail of abortion providers and staff, friends and family, Uber drivers and anyone else who might offer assistance to a woman facing one of the most serious decisions of her life. (SB 8 makes no mention of the father.)

Now, Cain has company. The first abortion vigilante to step up and take action under the blatantly unconstitutional Texas law is an Arkansas man named Oscar Stilley, who describes himself as a “disbarred and disgraced” attorney.

Stilley told the New York Times that he served a decade in prison after being convicted in federal court of tax evasion and conspiracy and is now under house arrest. According to a U.S. Justice Department press release, he hasn’t paid federal taxes since 2010.

Stilley said he decided to file suit after reading an op-ed in the Washington Post last Saturday by Dr. Alan Braid, a San Antonio physician who wrote that on the morning of September 6 he had “provided an abortion to a woman who, though 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 also mentioned that several times a month women come to his clinic because they have been raped. Some go to the police, but usually they do not, he wrote. Cain’s law makes no exception for pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. (Of course, Gov. Greg Abbott has said that he will be eliminating all rape in Texas, so perhaps we don’t need to worry about that omission.)

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