Legal challenge to Texas anti-abortion law starts

by Lisa Anderson | https://twitter.com/LisaAndersonNYC | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 5 August 2014 07:15 GMT

Abortion rights activists protest on August 4, 2014, outside a U.S. federal court in Austin, Texas, where a hearing started for a case by the Center for Reproductive Rights against a new set of restrictions on abortion clinics in the state that go into effect in September. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

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Similar law in Alabama ruled unconstitutional

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Abortion rights groups challenged Texas’ sweeping anti-abortion law in federal court on Monday, as a federal judge in Alabama ruled that the state’s similar restrictions on abortion were unconstitutional.

In its second challenge to Texas’ House Bill 2, which already has closed half the state’s abortion clinics, the Center for Reproductive Rights is arguing against the law’s provision that every abortion provider meet the hospital-grade standards of an ambulatory surgical centre - or ASCs, which provide same-day surgeries that do not require overnight stays - even though most abortions occur in the first trimester and do not involve surgery.

If that requirement goes into effect on Sept. 1 as scheduled, Texas, the nation’s second largest state in area and population, would be left with fewer than 10 abortion providers. With large swaths of the state already without abortion clinics, the lawsuit argues the provision puts undue burdens on clinics and the women they serve.

Proponents of the restrictions argue that they are all measures to ensure women’s safety. Critics counter that they are unnecessary, Targeted Regulations against Abortion Providers - or TRAP laws - aimed at closing down clinics.

The trial in Austin, expected to end on Aug. 7, also will hear arguments against the law’s requirement that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges in hospitals within 30 miles.

Abortion rights activists maintain that such admitting privileges are unnecessary, as complications from the procedure are rare and hospital emergency rooms typically will admit and treat anyone who arrives in distress.

This part of the current challenge is specifically on behalf of clinics operated by Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen and Reproductive Services in El Paso, both of which have closed due to the requirement.

Their shuttering has left the Rio Grande Valley without any abortion providers. The closest clinic is at least a 500-mile (800-km) roundtrip car ride away, which the suit argues poses a major barrier to the region’s women exercising their constitutional right to abortion.

“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 (70 million hectares) with fewer than 10 clinics offering safe, legal care to women who have made the decision to end a pregnancy,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

“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.”

ALABAMA, MISSISSIPPI

As the federal court in Austin began hearing the case, another federal court in Montgomery ruled that a similar Alabama law regarding hospital admitting privileges was unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled that the law, which would have led to the closure of three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics, placed undue burden on a woman’s ability to choose to terminate a pregnancy by making it unnecessarily difficult to obtain an abortion.

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit kept Mississippi’s only abortion clinic open by upholding a preliminary injunction blocking a Mississippi law requiring hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers.

(Editing by Alisa Tang: alisa.tang@thomsonreuters.com)

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