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Next Stop for New TX Abortion Law: The Courts

PHOTO: Texas Rangers lined the stairwells and halls of the Capitol rotunda during this month's peaceful protests against HB2. Photo by Lauren Gerson.

PHOTO: Texas Rangers lined the stairwells and halls of the Capitol rotunda during this month's peaceful protests against HB2. Photo by Lauren Gerson.


July 29, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas - New abortion measures are set to begin this fall in Texas. However, those opposed are expected to mount a legal challenge before they go into effect, saying they would place an undue burden on women seeking services. Part of the law requires an abortion provider to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The vast majority of providers currently do not.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO, Whole Woman's Health, warned that it will prove difficult for the providers to obtain privileges because, for one thing, some hospitals are owned by religious organizations.

"Secondarily," Miller said, "you've got the (state) restrictions around the women's health care Medicaid program that say if any physician has an 'affiliation with abortion,' they can't participate in the Medicaid program. So, hospitals are nervous about granting abortion providers privileges because they're worried that they won't be able to participate in the Medicaid program."

Whole Woman's Health operates five clinics in Texas and is the only provider within hundreds of miles for some women. The organization will remain open for now.

Another measure that could be challenged in court says abortions must be performed at ambulatory surgical centers. Janet Crepps, senior counsel, Center for Reproductive Rights, said that requirement would force a lot of clinics to close, causing more danger for women. She said that requirement is unneeded, since abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in the country.

"The Supreme Court has said that the state can further its interest in maternal health only if the requirements are necessary and don't place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking abortions," Crepps said. "The ambulatory surgical center [requirement] fails on both counts."

The ambulatory surgical center requirement is set to take effect next year. The other measures are to begin this October - including a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, which Crepps said also violates a Supreme Court ruling that states cannot prevent women from getting abortions prior to viability. "And similar restrictions have been challenged in other states," she adds. "In two states, it has been held unconstitutional, and in another state, the court has issued a preliminary injunction saying that the law is likely unconstitutional."

Regardless of how the lawsuit plays out, Miller noted that clinics will continue to face attacks from those who want to see them shut down - attacks such as the mailings sent to her staff, offering them cash to turn whistle-blower.

"It is a very difficult environment to feel like you can provide care without getting worried," Miller said. "Some of our physicians are always worried that 'Is this patient a real patient? Is she a plant? Is she coming into the clinic with a camera? Is she recording what I say?' Because all of these things have been done by our opposition."

Instead of restricting access to abortion, Miller added, lawmakers should look at ways to reduce unplanned pregnancies.

Gov. Rick Perry said the new measures will give voice to the unborn and improve the quality of care women receive.

This story was produced with original reporting from Jordan Smith of "The Austin Chronicle." The complete article is available at www.austinchronicle.com.




John Michaelson, Public News Service - TX