Texas Abortion Restrictions Tested at Trial in Austin
By Andrew Harris – Oct 21, 2013 12:00 AM ET
New Texas laws requiring abortion doctors to have local hospital admitting privileges and allowing only physicians to dispense pregnancy-ending drugs will be challenged in a trial in the state’s capital city.
Planned Parenthood last month sued to block the measures signed into law by Governor Rick Perry on July 18 and scheduled to take effect Oct. 29, arguing they unconstitutionally burden women’s rights.
While the group initially sought a preliminary court order blocking the laws, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin on Oct. 8 set the case for a trial before him today on the constitutional issues. Both sides waived their right to a jury.
“The effect of the challenged provisions will be devastating for Texas women,” Planned Parenthood lawyers said in an Oct. 18 court filing.
The legislation requires doctors who perform the procedure to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (48 kilometers) of their clinic. It also eliminates the availability of drug-induced abortions after the seventh week of a pregnancy.
The two drugs that will induce an abortion when used in combination are typically taken a day or two apart, according to court papers. The first, Mifepristone — also known as RU-486 or Mifeprex — is typically administered by a doctor, while the second, Misoprostol, also called Cytotec, is taken by the patient at a time and place of her choosing, according to the group’s complaint. The new law would end that practice too.
“New research and advanced technology give prematurely-born children a renewed chance at life, which should give us all pause as we argue the definition of viability and consider the human impact of abortion,” Perry, a Republican, said in a statement announcing he had signed the legislation known as House Bill 2. “This is an important day for those who support life and for those who support the health of Texas women.”
Legislative debate over the issue in June catapulted to prominence Democratic state Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, whose filibuster against the measure drew national media coverage.
Davis on Oct. 3 kicked off a bid to be the first Democrat elected governor of the second-biggest U.S. state in area and population since Ann W. Richards in 1990.
Opponents of the measure said in their Oct. 18 court filing that the admission privileges requirement could cause more than 22,000 women to be denied access to the procedure annually
“One in three health centers that currently provide abortion will be forced to stop,” Planned Parenthood’s lawyers said in a court filing. Services in six Texas cities will be eliminated, they said. “There are currently only five Texas cities where a woman can get an abortion after 15 weeks; if the act takes effect, there will be three.”
The 30-mile rule is medically unjustified because less than 0.3 percent of abortions nationwide result in hospitalization, according to the group’s lawyers.
State Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who’s running to succeed Perry as governor, filed papers opposing Planned Parenthood’s bid to block the laws, arguing the group doesn’t have standing to challenge health and safety laws aimed it its would-be patients.
“Any pregnant woman who wants to use Mifepristone for non-FDA approved uses, or who wants an abortion from a physician who lacks hospital-admitting privileges, can sue the officials charged with enforcing HB2, and any such woman in Texas could provide a suitable plaintiff,” Abbott said in an Oct. 15 court filing. “Roe v. Wade proves this point.”
It was the lawsuit filed by Norma McCorvey, known then by the pseudonym Jane Roe, against then-Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade that led to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion.
Abbott also said the new legislation is constitutional. The admitting privileges law doesn’t pose an undue burden and promotes the health and safety of patients, as does the drug-related provision.
Other new provisions, unchallenged in the suit, ban abortion after the 20th week of a pregnancy and, as of Sept. 1, 2014, will require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.
Texas also has laws mandating counseling at least 24 hours before the procedure and an ultrasound of the fetus unless the woman lives more than 100 miles from an abortion provider.
The case is Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Services v. Abbott, 13-cv-00862, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (Austin).
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