Trial Begins in Second Challenge to Texas’ Unconstitutional Abortion Restrictions

(PRESS RELEASE) Today marks the beginning of a four-day trial in the second challenge to Texas’ unconstitutional package of abortion restrictions intended to shutter clinics across the state.  Federal district court Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin will hear arguments on the Center for Reproductive Rights’ challenge to the state’s requirement that every reproductive health care facility offering abortion services meet the same building requirements as an ambulatory surgical center (ASC), as well as the challenge to the law’s admitting privileges requirement on behalf of two of the hardest-hit clinics in the state.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“This is a battle to stop the politicians who have already done devastating and potentially irreparable harm to the health care system for women in Texas from obliterating it entirely for millions of women statewide.

“If the additional regulations we are challenging in this case are allowed to go into effect, they would leave a state of more than 26 million people and 270,000 square miles with fewer than 10 clinics offering safe, legal care to women who have made the decision to end a pregnancy.

“This is a patently unconstitutional and potentially life-threatening assault on women’s rights and health, and we look to the court to block its enforcement before it places any more women in harm’s way.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights is currently involved in two challenges to Texas’ House Bill 2 (HB2), a sweeping package of anti-choice legislation which was passed last summer.  The first suit challenges the law’s unconstitutional admitting privileges requirement as it applies to all clinics in the state, as well as its onerous restrictions on medication abortion. While the medication abortion provision was largely upheld by the federal district court, the admitting privileges provision was initially struck down, but then later took effect on October 31, 2013 after a decision by the Fifth Circuit to stay the lower court’s injunction. The same appellate court later upheld both provisions—the results of which have been nothing short of devastating, closing clinics across the state and leaving thousands of women already facing extremely limited reproductive health care options due to drastic family planning cuts in 2011 without access to health care. The providers now await a decision whether the full Fifth Circuit will rehear the case and review the constitutionality of the admitting privileges requirement and the lack of a health exception in the medication abortion restrictions.

In April 2014, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed an additional lawsuit against HB2, seeking to block the admitting privileges requirement specifically as it applies to two clinics—Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen and Reproductive Services in El Paso—that are among the last, if not the only, reproductive health care providers offering safe, legal abortion care in their communities. Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen has been unable to provide abortion services to their patients since the admitting privileges requirement took effect in November 2013 and earlier this year closed its doors entirely, leaving the Rio Grande Valley without an abortion provider and continuing to force women to travel 300 hundred miles roundtrip to the next nearest clinic.  Whole Woman’s Health also recently announced they will be closing their flagship clinic in Austin as a result of HB2.  In El Paso, Reproductive Services was also forced to close their doors due to the admitting privileges requirement.

The second suit also seeks to strike HB2’s provision that every reproductive health care facility offering abortion services meet the same building requirements as ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), a provision scheduled to take effect in September 2014 that would leave fewer than 10 clinics in Texas and force many women to endure a roundtrip of more than a thousand miles or cross state lines to access safe and legal abortion services.

Said Amy Hagstrom-Miller, Founder, President and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health:

“For over ten years, Whole Woman’s Health has been proud to provide high-quality, safe, and legal reproductive health care services to the women and families of Texas.  But after already being forced to shutter three of our five remaining Texas clinics as a direct result of HB2, the fate of one of our last remaining clinics continues to hang in the balance. 

“Whole Woman’s Health remains committed to fighting back against these underhanded attacks on women’s health and rights and do everything in our power to continue providing Texas women with the high quality reproductive health care they need and deserve.”

Major medical groups oppose the types of restrictions found in Texas’ HB2Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) oppose hospital admitting privileges as a requirement for physicians providing abortion services. Medical experts confirm that abortion care has a 99% safety record, with less than 1% of patients experiencing any complications and even fewer requiring further treatment at a hospital.  ACOG also opposes imposing medically unnecessary facility requirements on abortion providers that are not required of similarly situated surgical procedures.

Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471)—a bill that would prohibit states like Texas  from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.