Reproductive-rights groups are trying again to block a law that is set to cut the total number of abortion clinics in Texas down to the single digits later this year.
The Center for Reproductive Rights announced Wednesday that it will file a new federal lawsuit that challenges two parts of House Bill 2, a strict antiabortion law passed last year that gained national attention following an 11-hour filibuster by Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis, now a gubernatorial candidate. The bill passed soon after in a second special session called by Republican Gov. Rick Perry last July.
The challenge is the latest in a nationwide battle over reproductive rights in which many states are looking for ways to limit abortion that won't be struck down by the courts for violating national laws. A recent analysis by the pro-abortion-rights Guttmacher Institute found that 2013 was second only to 2011 in the number of abortion restrictions passed in a single year — 70 in 22 states.
The Texas law is among the most restrictive in the country, and it has played a major part in the rapid closure of abortion clinics across the state. The 44 abortion clinics that were open in 2011 has now dwindled to about 20.
The lawsuit announced Wednesday challenges a final requirement of the law that is scheduled to go into effect in September, and would again cut the number of clinics in Texas to only six.
The provision requires that all clinics without an ambulatory surgical center close immediately. Clinics estimate that it would cost several million dollars to build an ASC on site.
The suit also seeks an immediate order blocking the requirement that providers have admitting privileges at a hospital within a 30-mile radius as it applies to two clinics in particular: Whole Woman's Health in McAllen and Reproductive Health Services in El Paso.
Whole Woman's Health closed two clinics — in McAllen and Beaumont — last month, leaving women in rural areas without a nearby provider. McAllen was the only remaining abortion provider in the Rio Grande Valley; the closest alternative is 150 miles away in Corpus Christi, but that clinic does not have an ASC. The next closest is 230 miles away in San Antonio.
"Over the past 10 years in Texas, politicians have thrown up barrier after barrier to try to stop us from providing safe abortion care to women who need it, and those barriers became nearly impossible to scale with the passage of HB2 in 2013," Whole Woman's Health Founder and CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller said in a statement.
Hagstrom Miller is participating in Wednesday's lawsuit, and she says it is possible two more of her clinics will have to close in September if the ASC requirement goes into effect.
"We filed this lawsuit to stop the second-largest state in the nation from plunging millions of women back into the darkness and grave danger of illegal abortion that Roe v. Wade was supposed to end," Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. "If these legislative attacks on women's health care continue to take effect, fewer than 10 clinics will be available to provide abortion care to Texas's 13 million women. Many women will suddenly face a round trip as far as 1,000 miles from their homes to obtain abortion care in their own state."
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld Texas's admitting-privileges requirement after it was struck down by a federal district court last fall, saying it is constitutional because it does not impose an "undue burden" on women's access to abortion. The challenge was originally filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights and other groups and providers in September.
Just this week, other states have moved forward similar antiabortion legislation. Bills being considered in Louisiana and Oklahoma require providers to have admitting privileges as well — a bill that passed out of the Louisiana House on Monday may close three of the five providers in the state, and one that passed in the Senate and out of the House committee in Oklahoma could close two of the state's three providers, according to Planned Parenthood. Legislation is being considered in Arizona and Alabama this week as well.