On the Anniversary of Landmark Texas Filibuster, Center for Reproductive Rights Calls on Congress to Support Women’s Health Protection Act

Devastating impact of Texas’ far-reaching restrictions on reproductive health care still being felt across the state, demonstrates need for stronger federal protections and Congressional action

(PRESS RELEASE) One year after women’s health advocates mounted an historic 12-hour filibuster against a package of anti-choice measures aimed at restricting women's access to abortion services and regulating women's reproductive health care providers out of existence, the Center for Reproductive Rights calls on Congress to take action against these relentless assault on women’s reproductive rights in this country and support the Women’s Health Protection Act. 

The federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471)—legislation introduced in November 2013 by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) with more than 150 cosponsors—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.

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

“Despite the bold efforts by women’s health advocates and the thousands of Texans who gathered in protest at the statehouse last summer, HB2 has continued to wreak havoc on women’s health and rights across the state.

“And Texas women are not alone.  Similarly relentless and extreme attacks on women’s health and rights have been waged in more than a dozen states across the U.S. in recent years—the result of which has been nothing short of devastating.

“It’s time for Congress to take action and support the Women’s Health Protection Act to put an end to these assaults and strengthen the protections for women’s health and rights.”

At the end of the Texas state legislature’s first special session called by Governor Rick Perry to deal with transportation issues in the state, women’s health advocates successfully filibustered a deeply unpopular omnibus bill including restrictions on the use of medication to terminate a pregnancy in its earliest stages, a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, a requirement that all abortion providers obtain hospital admitting privileges, and onerous physical plant requirements for all reproductive health care facilities that offer abortion. Despite the successful filibuster and the bill’s extreme unpopularity, Governor Perry called the legislature into a second special session where the omnibus legislation was eventually passed and signed into law in July 2013.

In September 2013, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of more than a dozen women’s health care advocates and providers against two of the most harmful provisions of HB2: the admitting privileges requirement and the restrictions on medication abortion.

While the entire admitting privileges provision and part of the medication abortion restrictions were initially struck down as unconstitutional by a federal district court, the measures took effect in October 2013 after a three judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed the lower court’s injunction. The same appellate court later upheld the two provisions. The providers now await a decision whether the full Fifth Circuit will review the constitutionality of the admitting privileges requirement and the lack of health exception in the restrictions on medication abortion. 

In April 2014, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed an additional lawsuit against HB2, seeking to block admitting privileges requirement specifically as it applies to Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen and Reproductive Health Services in El Paso—two clinics that are among the last, if not the only, reproductive health care providers offering safe, legal abortion care in their communities. 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.

This week, the Center for Reproductive Rights is organizing an advocacy day on Capitol Hill with activists and advocates from around the country to urge members of Congress to support the Women’s Health Protection Act. To find out more about the advocacy day events and ways to participate in the effort online, visit: http://www.drawtheline.org/four-ways-to-act-for-women/.