News Abortion

Texas Lawmakers Propose TRAP Bill That Could Eliminate All But Five Providers in State

Andrea Grimes

Three Texas lawmakers—all of them doctors—have filed a bill that would require all abortion providers to meet the "minimum standards" for ambulatory surgical centers.

Three Texas lawmakers—all of them doctors—have filed a bill that would require all abortion providers to meet the “minimum standards” for ambulatory surgical centers. Sponsoring Senator Bob Deuell tweeted today, after filing the bill, that it would “force abortion clinics in Texas to put women’s health first.”

But the bill appears to be predominantly concerned with putting lawmakers’ political careers first.

“This is not medically motivated, it’s ideologically motivated,” NARAL Pro-Choice Texas executive director Heather Busby told Rewire. She said the lawmakers “haven’t shown any proven track record of problems this legislation would solve.”

“In effect, it will make conditions more unsafe for women,” said Busby, pushing Texans to seek “unsafe and illegal abortions” by crossing the border into Mexico, or ordering abortifacients online. Legal abortion performed by a qualified provider is one of the safest medical procedures; childbirth, by contrast, has a risk of death ten times that of legal abortion, according to the World Health Organization.

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An almost identical bill was filed in the 2011 session, but died in committeeTRAP laws, intended to regulate abortion providers out of existence are a widespread and common tactic for anti-choice lawmakers—it’s a move that’s worked in Virginia, and may shut down Mississippi’s last abortion clinic. It’s also one that Texas Governor Rick Perry outright endorsed last month: “In Texas, we’ve worked hard to strengthen our abortion laws to the greatest extent possible under Roe v. Wade.” You don’t have to make abortion as a procedure illegal—you don’t have to overturn Roe vs. Wade—if you make safe, legal abortions impossible to access or provide.

The modifications required for compliance with ambulatory surgical center standards would require clinics to make significant structural changes, like widened hallways and modifications to air flow patterns, that one abortion provider told Rewire are “unwarranted” in terms of improving the health and safety of abortion patients.

“There’s no basis in medicine that requires the higher level of sophistication of the physical plant and regulations that go with an ambulatory surgical center,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder of the Whole Woman’s Health group of reproductive health clinics, oversees five clinics in Texas, one of which is an ambulatory surgical center.

“Abortion is a procedure, it’s not a surgery,” said Hagstrom Miller. “There’s no incision made.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, there were 67 abortion providers in Texas in 2008. If the bill were to pass, the number of abortion providers in Texas would be reduced to five. As a result, said Hagstrom Miller, those five centers—one in Austin, one in Dallas, one in San Antonio and two in Houston—would likely be seeing more patients seeking later-term abortions that come with higher health risks.

The cost, in both time and money, of getting an abortion in Texas has increased in recent years because of mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasound requirements and pre-abortion waiting periods. Texans already must wait 24 hours between their initial consultation and their procedures, which especially burdens women who have to drive or find public transportation into neighboring cities and towns to see their doctors. A drastic reduction in the number of providers—the expected outcome of this bill were to become law—would mean even more hurdles for Texans to jump to access a safe, legal medical procedure.

“Show me the problem,” said Hagstrom Miller, who pointed out that this kind of legislation does nothing to address unplanned pregnancies, or increase access to contraception, that would prevent the need for abortion in the first place. “What problem are we addressing here? What exactly are we fixing here?”

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: The Fight Over Voter ID Laws Heats Up in the Courts

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Texas and North Carolina both have cases that could bring the constitutionality of Voter ID laws back before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this term.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

Meanwhile, according to Politifact, North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper is actually saving taxpayers money by refusing to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on the state’s voter ID law, so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) should stop complaining about it.

And in other North Carolina news, Ian Millhiser writes that the state has hired high-powered conservative attorney Paul Clement to defend its indefensible voter ID law.

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Alex Thompson writes in Vice that the Zika virus is about to hit states with the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. So if you’re pregnant, stay away. No one has yet offered advice for those pregnant people who can’t leave Zika-prone areas.

Robin Marty writes on Care2 about Americans United for Life’s (AUL) latest Mad Lib-style model bill, the “National Abortion Data Reporting Law.” Attacking abortion rights: It’s what AUL does.

The Washington Post profiled Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Given this Congress, that will likely spur another round of hearings. (It did get a response from Richards herself.)

Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson writes in Bloomberg BNA that Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan thinks the Supreme Court’s clarification of the undue burden standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will have ramifications for voting rights cases.

This must-read New York Times piece reminds us that we still have a long way to go in accommodating breastfeeding parents on the job.

News Law and Policy

Federal Judge Guts Florida GOP’s Omnibus Anti-Choice Law

Teddy Wilson

"For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” said Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away."

A federal judge on Thursday permanently blocked two provisions of a Florida omnibus anti-choice law that banned Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds and required annual inspections of all clinics that provide abortion services, reported the Associated Press.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued an order in June to delay implementation of the law.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that a government cannot prohibit indirectly—by withholding otherwise-available public funds—conduct that the government could not constitutionally prohibit directly,” Hinkle wrote in the 25-page ruling.  

Thursday’s decision came after Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration decided not to pursue further legal action to defend the law, and filed a joint motion to end the litigation.

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Hinkle issued a three page decision making the injunction permanent.

HB 1411, sponsored by Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland), was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature in March.

The judge’s ruling nixed provisions in the law that banned state funding of abortion care and required yearly clinic inspections. Other provisions of the law that remain in effect include additional reporting requirements for abortion providers, redefining “third trimester,” and revising the care of fetal remains.

The GOP-backed anti-choice law has already had a damaging effect in Palm Beach County, where Planned Parenthood was forced to end a program that focused on teen dropout prevention.

Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a statement that the ruling was a “victory for thousands of Floridians” who rely on the organization for reproductive health care.

“For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” Zdravecky said. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away.”

A spokesperson for Scott told Reuters that the administration is “reviewing” the decision.

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