Three major civil liberties and women's groups filed a lawsuit on Friday against the new Texas abortion law that state Sen. Wendy Davis famously delayed with a marathon filibuster.
Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union are suing Texas on behalf of more than a dozen abortion providers over House Bill 2, claiming that two of its major provisions are unconstitutional.
“We’re in court today to stop a terrible situation for women in Texas from getting even worse,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Politicians are interfering with the personal medical decisions of women who already have the least access to birth control and preventive health care. If this law goes into effect, there is no doubt it will end access to safe and legal abortion for many women, leaving some to resort to desperate and dangerous measures. We won’t let that happen.”
Specifically, the lawsuit challenges the provision requiring medication abortions, which account for most first-trimester abortions, to be administered by a doctor in person, and the one requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
The plaintiffs argue that those two provisions provide a "substantial obstacle" to women's constitutionally protected right to an abortion and violate the due process rights of doctors and their patients. The law goes into effect on Oct. 1, but hospitals can take up to six months to decide whether to grant doctors admitting privileges, so most providers would be forced to stop operating at least until a hospital has made its decision.
And most medication abortions are prescribed by a doctor for a patient to self-administer at home. Requiring the doctor to be there in person while the patient takes the medication and monitor her afterwards could make those abortions much more difficult to obtain.
Republican state lawmakers in Texas argued that the new abortion restrictions, signed by Gov. Rick Perry (R) this summer, are designed to protect women's health and safety. The law also bans most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and requires all abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers.
The surgical center requirement was the most controversial aspect of the bill, because opponents argued that it could shut down most of the abortion clinics in Texas. The clinics would have to undergo extremely costly renovations in order to essentially become mini-hospitals. Some clinics have already shut down or are preparing to do so.
A spokesperson for the Center for Reproductive Rights said the plaintiffs are not yet challenging that part of the law because it does not go into effect until September 2014.
“Any one of these restrictions would have a devastating impact across the state of Texas,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Together they would be catastrophic, making essential reproductive health care services for many Texans, especially poor and rural women, practically impossible to access. Today’s lawsuit is a united strike back against the hostile politicians who have made clear their willingness to sacrifice the constitutional rights, health, and even lives of Texas women in support of their extremist ideological agenda.”
So far, almost all of the lawsuits that have been filed against restrictions on admitting privileges and medication abortions across the country have been successful. Judges in Mississippi, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Alabama have temporarily blocked admitting privileges requirements in those states while the court cases are pending, and medication abortion restrictions in Oklahoma and North Dakota have been permanently struck down. Ohio is the only state where a vague restriction on medication abortions was upheld by a federal appeals court.