Abortion providers sue to overturn Texas law


Highlights

Ban on ‘dismemberment abortions’ restricts safest second-trimester procedure, lawsuit argues.

Restriction was included in sweeping bill approved in the closing days of the Legislature’s regular session.

Texas abortion providers filed a federal lawsuit Thursday seeking to overturn a new Texas law that will limit the most commonly used second-trimester procedure.

The restriction, included in Senate Bill 8’s sweeping abortion regulations that were approved during the closing days of the Legislature’s regular session in May, is set to take effect Sept. 1 and targets so-called dismemberment abortions.

Filed in Austin federal court, the lawsuit argues that the restriction places an unconstitutional limit on abortion access by banning “dilation and evacuation” procedures that physicians have determined to be the safest method of second-trimester abortions after about 15 weeks of gestation.

Similar laws have been enacted in seven states, though courts have blocked four of them — with a ruling expected soon on efforts to overturn an Arkansas law that takes effect later this month.

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The Center for Reproductive Rights filed the Texas lawsuit with lawyers for Planned Parenthood.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said it will be an honor to defend the challenged law in court.

“Dismemberment abortions are a gruesome and inhumane method of ending human life. Senate Bill 8 protects the dignity and sanctity of life, along with the integrity of the medical profession,” Paxton said in a written statement.

The lead plaintiff in the case is Whole Woman’s Health, which operates abortion clinics in Austin and three other Texas cities.

“Politicians, not doctors, are pushing for these restrictions, and they undermine the ability … to provide the individualized care that is right for our patients,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, head of Whole Woman’s Health.

The lawsuit comes as the Legislature is weighing additional abortion-related regulations that Gov. Greg Abbott wants approved — including a ban on state and local government money to abortion providers, a ban on insurance plans that include general coverage for abortions, and a provision requiring stricter reporting of abortion-related medical complications.

A committee hearing on several of those bills will begin at 8 a.m. Friday at the Capitol. Registration to testify before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee begins at 7 a.m. and closes at 11 a.m.

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SB 8 also requires fetal tissue to be buried or cremated, prohibits the use of fetal tissue from abortions in medical research and creates state crimes for two practices already prohibited by federal law — selling fetal body parts and “partial-birth” abortions. Those regulations also take effect Sept. 1.

In January, a federal judge blocked Texas from enforcing a similar fetal-burial rule that had been adopted last year by state health officials.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks of Austin said the policy offered no health benefits and replaced tissue-disposal regulations that caused no health problems. And although state leaders said the change was needed to promote respect for life and dignity for unborn children, Sparks said the rule was difficult to comply with, could lead to arbitrary enforcement and seemed a pretext for restricting access to abortion.

While Paxton has asked a federal appeals court to overturn Sparks’ ruling, abortion providers have asked the judge to reopen the case so the fetal burial portion of SB 8 can be added to his injunction barring enforcement.

Currently, fetal tissue from abortions is most commonly incinerated and sent to sanitary landfills.

Other Texas abortion restrictions have had a difficult time in the court as well.

Earlier this year, Sparks also blocked an attempt by Texas officials to remove Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid provider, saying the ouster could disrupt care for many of the 12,500 low-income Texans who receive contraceptives and health care from the organization.

In addition, last year the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out two Texas regulations, passed in the second of two tumultuous special legislative sessions in 2013, that would have left nine abortion clinics operating in the state.

The court rejected arguments from Texas Republican officials who said the regulations were intended to protect the health and safety of women seeking an abortion, signaling that future clinic-closing restrictions will have to show demonstrable health benefits to survive legal challenges.



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