At trial, clinics say abortion regulation harms women

The health and safety of Texas women will be endangered if a Texas abortion regulation, expected to close most state clinics, is allowed to take effect Sept. 1, lawyers for abortion providers argued as a federal court trial got underway Monday.

The regulation, requiring all abortions to be performed in clinics that meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, will force 18 clinics across Texas to close because they cannot meet the high cost of converting their facility or building a new surgical center, lawyer Jan Soifer said.

The result will leave a vast swath of Texas without a clinic — forcing women to delay abortions, which carries a higher risk of complications, to forgo the procedure or to seek dangerous, self-induced abortions, Soifer said.

“There will not be a single abortion clinic south or west of San Antonio,” leaving almost 1 million Texas women of reproductive age living more than 150 miles from the nearest clinic, Soifer said.

“That is more than the (reproductive-age) population in 25 other states and in the District of Columbia,” she told U.S. Judge Lee Yeakel in his Austin courtroom.

Deputy Attorney General Jimmy Blacklock said the regulation was intended to promote health and safety by ensuring that abortions take place in facilities with a reduced likelihood of complications and the ability to provide a higher level of care should complications arise.

Blacklock said the regulation survives legal scrutiny because the clinics cannot prove that the rule imposes a substantial obstacle for women seeking an abortion.

Under the regulation, 18 abortion clinics would be forced to close because they do not meet surgical center standards, leaving seven — soon to be eight — compliant clinics in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio.

Planned Parenthood opened one new surgical center in Dallas and has another under construction in San Antonio, and Blacklock argued that other facilities are exploring the possibility of opening surgical centers.

“If the law is allowed to go into effect, (abortion businesses) will adjust,” he said. “This case is really about the effect of the new health and safety regulations on the plaintiffs’ businesses.”

Soifer argued that surgical centers cost an average of $3 million, more than most clinics’ annual budgets, to provide standards that are medically unnecessary because abortion is a relatively safe procedure.

From 2008-12, 538 Texas woman died from pregnancy-related causes, while only one death was attributed to an abortion, Soifer said. That equates to a mortality rate of 0.27 per 100,000 people for abortion, compared with 27.6 per 100,000 for childbirth, she said.

The trial on the regulation, approved as part of House Bill 2 during last summer’s raucous legislative session, is expected to continue through Thursday.

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