by Mary Tuma
Reproductive rights groups formally began their legal attempt to challenge controversial anti-abortion legislation in Texas today, opening the “latest chapter” in a “long fight” against the draconian legislation. House Bill 2, signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry in July, drew thousands of citizen protestors and attracted nationwide attention to the conservative-led effort to restrict women’s health care. While advocacy groups mounted a unprecedented effort to halt HB2 as it made its way through the Texas Legislature’s two specially called special sessions, taking to the grounds of the Capitol in protest, they are now bringing that battle to the courtroom, as anticipated.
Advocacy groups are taking the protests against anti-abortion legislation to the courts in a lawsuit filed today. Photo by Mary Tuma
Jointly filed by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and George Brothers Kincaid & Horton, a Texas-based law firm, the suit represents more than a dozen health care providers who consider the law harmful to their patients and unconstitutional. The legislation is widely expected to shutter all but five abortion centers in the state due to onerous regulation that reproductive health leaders say are unnecessary, ideologically motivated and will have the reverse effect of creating a safe environment for women’s health, as the Current's August 14 cover story previously reported.
Planned Parenthood v. Abbott will tackle two provisions within the omnibus House Bill 2: a requirement that compels physicians to secure admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of where the abortion procedure is performed and restrictions that force women to follow outdated protocol when taking abortion-inducing drugs– requirements they describe that will have the “most immediate” and “very far-reaching” impact on women’s health. Those restrictions take effect Oct. 29– the plaintiffs hope to win a preliminary injunction before then.
“Any one of these restrictions would have a devastating impact across the state of Texas,” said Nancy Northup, president & CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Together they would be catastrophic, making essential reproductive health care services for many Texans, especially poor and rural women, practically impossible to access.
“Today’s lawsuit is a united strike back against the hostile politicians who have made clear their willingness to sacrifice the constitutional rights, health, and even lives of Texas women in support of their extremist ideological agenda,” she said.
The groups say the hospital admitting privilege stipulation is unfair, as no other medical provider must adhere to the same rules. Moreover, the law would erase at least one-third of the state’s licensed abortion centers and would completely wipe out access to the procedure in “vast stretches” of Texas including cities like Lubbock, Fort Worth, Waco, McAllen, Harlingen, and Killeen, according to the advocacy groups. A string of Planned Parenthood centers, including clinics in Bryan, Huntsville and Lufkin most recently, have shut their doors as a result of the state's harsh women's health policies and more than 50 reproductive health care centers have closed due to drastic budget cuts to family planning, in what many refer to as a full-scale dismantling of the women's health care network in Texas.
Other requirements in the new law include forcing abortion centers to comply with the same standards as Ambulatory Surgical Centers, which is scheduled to go into effect next September, and a provision that outlaws abortion after 20-weeks. When asked why those parts were not being challenged as well during a media teleconference call this morning, attorney Jim George replied, “you can only do so much at once.” The aspects of the law facing a court hearing are seen as more immediately problematic.
Attorneys with the national branch of Planned Parenthood are representing centers all across Texas, including San Antonio. The Center for Reproductive Rights will represent Whole Women’s Health centers, which also has a clinic in San Antonio.
The groups point to legal victories against the admitting privileges requirement in Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Wisconsin and state court rulings in North Dakota and Oklahoma that permanently struck down restrictions on medication abortion on the basis of constitutionality. However, the Texas case may see more friction in the path toward its own hopeful victory. If the injunction is granted and the state expectedly appeals, the suit would then travel to the notoriously conservative (and anti-abortion) Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, who have historically issued unfavorable rulings to the reproductive rights advocates.
“We’re in court today to stop a terrible situation for women in Texas from getting even worse,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, native Texan and daughter of late Texas Gov. Ann Richards.
“Politicians are interfering with the personal medical decisions of women who already have the least access to birth control and preventive health care. If this law goes into effect, there is no doubt it will end access to safe and legal abortion for many women, leaving some to resort to desperate and dangerous measures. We won’t let that happen.”
View the complaint here via Scribd: Planned Parenthood v Abbott