Wendy Davis Allies Try Again With Texas Abortion Lawsuit

Advocates haven’t given up their fight against the restrictive state law that is set to close all but six clinics by September.

AUSTIN, TX - JUNE 25: State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Ft. Worth) (3L) holds up two fingers against the anti-abortion bill SB5, which was up for a vote on the last day of the legislative special session June 25, 2013 in Austin, Texas. A combination of Sen. Davis' 13-hour filibuster and protests by reproductive rights advocates helped to ultimately defeat the controversial abortion legislation at midnight. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
National Journal
Sophie Novack
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Sophie Novack
April 2, 2014, 1:18 p.m.

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.

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