Reason Roundup

First Abortion Doc Sued Under New Texas Law

Plus: The link between college and moral absolutism, environmental activists vs. Facebook, and more...


It begins. A Texas physician who penned an op-ed about performing an abortion in defiance of the state's new ban on the procedure after six weeks is being targeted by a civil lawsuit. Physician Alan Braid—a doctor whose clinics are represented by one of the reproductive freedom groups that asked the Supreme Court (unsuccessfully) to intervene—was practically daring someone to sue him, with a piece that drew national attention to his prohibited act.

And his dare was successful: Someone is now suing Braid for performing an abortion once fetal cardiac activity could be detected, in violation of the Texas law.

The man behind the first lawsuit is Oscar Stilley, an Arkansas resident who describes himself as a "disbarred and disgraced former Arkansas lawyer" and is currently serving a home-based federal prison sentence for tax evasion. The Texas abortion ban was written to let any nongovernmental actor, regardless of location, bring a lawsuit, with the possibility of receiving $10,000 if successful.

"If the law is no good, why should we have to go through a long, drawn-out process to find out if it's garbage?" said Stilley.

Details of Stilley's suit against Braid "are as unusual as the law itself," The Washington Post comments. Stilley "said he filed the claim not because of strongly held views about reproductive rights but in part because of the $10,000 he could receive if the lawsuit is successful."

You can read his full complaint here.

His suit against Braid sets up the Texas law for another challenge, overcoming the problems with the last one. The Supreme Court—which is set to hear another big abortion case in December—declined to block the Texas law because its challengers had sued state officials, who are not tasked with enforcing the private civil action–based law.

The Texas abortion ban, Senate Bill 8, was written this way for just this reason. It "was expressly designed so that state officials could dodge accountability for the state's law in federal court," Reason's Damon Root points out.

Root also notes that the Department of Justice—which sued over the law last week—"has offered a potentially winning strategy for overcoming that legal ruse":

In an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction filed in United States v. Texas, the federal government stresses the many ways in which the Texas law "impermissibly regulates the Federal Government…and poses unlawful obstacles to the accomplishment of federal objectives." In other words, because federal sovereignty and federal interests are being harmed by the state, the federal government may lawfully sue the state over those injuries in federal court.

Now, Braid's admission that he violated the abortion ban by performing a first-trimester abortion after fetal cardiac activity could be detected invited the first lawsuit under S.B. 8, making it possible for Braid to challenge the constitutionality of this blatantly unconstitutional law.

"Once a private party sues Braid, the constitutional issues raised by S.B. 8 will be unavoidable," Reason's Jacob Sullum wrote yesterday. "The only way to uphold the law will be to renounce Roe v. Wade and its progeny. Although most of the current justices seem to disagree with those precedents, that does not necessarily mean they are prepared to abandon half a century of jurisprudence, along with all the expectations built on it, in one fell swoop."

Update: "A second lawsuit has been filed against Braid by Felipe N. Gomez, an Illinois resident who describes himself as a "Pro Choice Plaintiff" in the suit," CNN reports.


"Higher education liberalizes moral concerns for most students, but it also departs from the standard liberal profile by promoting moral absolutism rather than relativism," researchers write in the abstract to a new paper published in American Sociological Review.

The paper—from University of Toronto sociology professor Andrew Miles and Ph.D. student Milos Brocic—looks at four waves of data, collected in 2002–03, 2005, 2007–08, and 2012–13, respectively. Subjects started out in the 13- to 17-year-old range and were between ages 23 and 29 during the last data collection period. Among the traits researchers looked at were moral progressivism (which the paper defines as a belief that "morals should change as societies progress") and moral relativism ("that there is no absolute moral truth").

"Moral progressivism is greater among degree-holders than for others," they found:

The socialization hypothesis also receives support insofar as moral progressivism varies by field of study and is most pronounced among graduates of the humanities, arts, and social sciences (HASS).5 In contrast—and contrary to early conservative critiques—higher educational attainment is associated with less moral relativism, especially for individuals majoring in STEM or HASS fields….

Turning to predictions for moral relativism, Figure 2 shows that getting a bachelor's degree in any field except education predicts lower moral relativism compared to individuals who do not enroll. This effect grows among people pursuing graduate studies, with moral relativism being lower for students in all fields, suggesting a general effect of higher education.

Read the whole paper here.



• The COVID-19 death toll has now reached that of the 1918 flu in terms of sheer numbers. (But "the US population a century ago was just one-third of what it is today, meaning the flu cut a much bigger, more lethal swath through the country," The Guardian points out.)

• Dan Drezner revisits last month's Afghanistan hyperbole. "I do not want to suggest that in retrospect the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was a raging success. It most certainly was not," he writes. "At the same time, let's be clear: This was not even close to the most sordid example of U.S. government maladministration of the past four decades. Indeed, despite a tsunami of negative (but accurate) media coverage, the public polling on Afghanistan is clear: Surveys from Monmouth and Quinnipiac show that more than two-thirds of respondents approve of the withdrawal of U.S. troops regardless of how it was executed (roughly the same numbers as from two months ago)."

Protecting and serving:

Joseph Sobolewski stopped at a convenience store in Perry County last month where he saw a sign for 20-ounce Mountain Dew bottles: 2 for $3.

He grabbed a bottle, slapped $2 on the counter and walked out.

What he didn't know was a single bottle was $2.29, not $1.50. So he had shorted the store 29 cents plus tax, or 43 cents total.

The store called police, who tracked him down. Pennsylvania State police officers charged him with a felony, locked him up on $50,000 cash-only bond. He's facing the possibility of up to seven years in prison.

• The Justice Department recently "told the Supreme Court that the public had no right of access under the First Amendment to secret decisions issued by a federal court," notes The New York Times. Now, Supreme Court justices "are set to consider whether to hear that case, which was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and concerns decisions issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, at their private conference on Oct. 8."

Reason's Brian Doherty dissects a new study on minimum wage increases, noting that "younger, less-well-educated workers have been especially harmed by recent state-level minimum wage hikes."

• A beautiful headline: "Democrats' once-sweeping agenda continues to shrink." And another: "Joe Biden's Agenda Is Hanging By A Thread As Democrats In Congress Threaten To Tank Two Major Bills."

• Johnson & Johnson vouches for COVID-19 vaccine boosters, which had previously only been talked about for Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. "We now have generated evidence that a booster shot further increases protection against COVID-19 and is expected to extend the duration of protection significantly," said the company's chief scientific officer in a statement.