News Abortion

On First Day of Texas Abortion Law Trial, State Asserts Interest in Protecting ‘Unborn’

Andrea Grimes

Opponents of Texas' new omnibus anti-choice law went to court Monday morning to ask a federal judge to block two tenets of HB 2 that require abortion providers to secure admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and restrict the prescription of a medication abortion regimen.

Opponents of Texas’ new omnibus anti-choice law went to court Monday morning to ask a federal judge to block two tenets of HB 2 that require abortion providers to secure admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and restrict the prescription of a medication abortion regimen.

Judge Lee Yeakel advised the crowded courtroom that “at the end of the day,” the issues presented in the lawsuit would likely be decided by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans or by the Supreme Court.

“This court’s job is not to rule on whether women should be allowed abortions,” Yeakel said, adding that his job is not to rule on his “personal views,” but to rule on the constitutionality of the law. “I want to hear about the statute, and whether the statute passes muster or not.”

The plaintiffs in the case include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood of Texas, and other abortion providers, who argued in court documents, and through witness testimony Monday, that HB 2 would severely limit the ability of doctors to provide legal abortion in the state by unnecessarily requiring them to obtain hospital admitting privileges and by restricting them to using the 13-year-old Food and Drug Administration (FDA) label protocol for medication abortions, a regimen of Mifeprex or mifepristone, and misoprostol, also known as Cytotec.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

Critics of HB 2, including researchers from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas, say that if Judge Yeakel does not rule in their favor, the hospital admitting privileges provision of the law will force about one-third of existing abortion providers to close their doors on October 29 when that provision goes into effect.

The differences between the plaintiffs and the attorneys for the State of Texas were stark from the very beginning of proceedings Monday morning: State counsel consisted of eight men and one woman, while plaintiffs’ counsel consisted of eight women and one man. The state declined to call witnesses, instead saying it would rely on written testimony and evidence, while the plaintiffs plan to call up to five witnesses, including abortion providers, public health researchers, and professionals.

As proceedings began, Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell said that not only does the state contend that HB 2’s provisions are necessary to protect the health of Texas women, but the state has a vested interest in “protecting the life of the unborn child,” and therefore has the right to impose “inconveniences on women seeking abortion in hopes that it may lead women considering abortion to opt for childbirth instead.”

If HB 2 does not “impose on the health of the patient,” said Mitchell, the law would stand challenge. But the plaintiffs’ first witness, Dr. Paul Fine, an abortion provider and medical director at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said that the law would indeed do just that.

“I believe that both of these provisions will harm women, harm Texas women,” testified Fine. He said the law’s requirement that the mifepristone/misoprostol regimen laid out by the FDA in 2000 has been updated with “evidence-based” protocols that are safer and more effective than those devised in the regimen’s original studies. Of the 1.75 million women who have used the regimen since 2000, said Fine, only five have died, and those before evidence-based protocols came into practice around 2006. He testified that abortion providers would be reluctant, if not unable, to prescribe medication abortions as a result of the law.

Fine added that HB 2 is “turning back the clock two decades,” and “does harm women because it takes away not only a choice but a safer method of abortion,” specifically for women for whom certain gynecological conditions, like uterine fibroid tumors, put them at risk for more complications if they were to undergo surgical abortion.

The plaintiffs also called an emergency physician who practices in Houston, Dr. Jennifer Carnell, who testified that in her experience, admitting privileges would not guarantee a higher standard of care for patients who present in an emergency room with complications from abortion. In nine years on the job, she said she had treated an estimated ten patients for complications from medication abortions. But every shift, she said, she sees women who present with miscarriages, the symptoms of which are almost identical to abortion complications.

“These are things that I see every day, people present with miscarriages,” said Carnell, who testified that emergency room physicians, in her experience, did not need to speak with an abortion provider to treat complications from abortion procedures. “The symptoms are something I feel confident treating as an emergency physician.”

The final witness of the day, University of Texas demographer Dr. Joseph Potter, testified that his Texas Policy Evaluation Project research shows the negative impact of HB 2 on abortion access, estimating that more than 22,000 women would be unable to access abortion as a result of the law’s challenged provisions. And if clinics are forced to close because their doctors cannot find admitting privileges, he said it is very difficult for them to reopen.

“The critical part, if a provider stops providing services, that clinic stops receiving money, but it does not stop receiving bills for the rent, and it has to continue to pay staff or let staff go,” testified Potter. According to his research speaking to reproductive health leaders in Texas, he said, “it is hard to recruit doctors to be able to do abortions.”

Potter said his research shows that some abortion providers would have to significantly increase their capacity in order to take on the geographic overflow patients who would be unable to go to clinics that no longer have abortion providers with admitting privileges. In Nueces County, for example, a provider would have to increase capacity by 182 percent, while providers in Dallas would need to see a 51 percent increase in patients.

But state attorneys challenged Potter’s research, saying that until the law goes into effect, all he is providing is speculation.

“It is not possible to prove these kinds of claims until the law is allowed to come into effect,” said Solicitor General Mitchell.

The trial continues Tuesday, when the plaintiffs are expected to call two representatives from Whole Woman’s Health, a group of abortion providers with five locations in Texas, including an ambulatory surgical center in San Antonio.

Correction: A version of this article incorrectly quoted Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell as saying that the state has the right to impose “inconveniences on women seeking abortion in hopes that it may lead women considering abortion to consider childbirth instead,” when in fact he said “it may lead women considering abortion to opt for childbirth instead.” We regret the error.

News Law and Policy

Pastors Fight Illinois’ Ban on ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

Imani Gandy

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban so-called gay conversion therapy. Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans.

A group of pastors filed a lawsuit last week arguing an Illinois law that bans mental health providers from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy unconstitutionally infringes on rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The Illinois legislature passed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which went into effect on January 1. The measure bans mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts or so-called conversion therapy with a minor.

The pastors in their lawsuit argue the enactment of the law means they are “deprived of the right to further minister to those who seek their help.”

While the pastors do not qualify as mental health providers since they are neither licensed counselors nor social workers, the pastors allege that they may be liable for consumer fraud under Section 25 of the law, which states that “no person or entity” may advertise or otherwise offer “conversion therapy” services “in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

The pastors’ lawsuit seeks an order from a federal court in Illinois exempting pastoral counseling from the law. The pastors believe that “the law should not apply to pastoral counseling which informs counselees that homosexuality conduct is a sin and disorder from God’s plan for humanity,” according to a press release issued by the pastors’ attorneys.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban gay “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans. None have been struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court this year declined to take up a case challenging New Jersey’s “gay conversion therapy” ban on First Amendment grounds.

The pastors say the Illinois law is different. The complaint alleges that the Illinois statute is broader than those like it in other states because the prohibitions in the law is not limited to licensed counselors, but also apply to “any person or entity in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” which they claim affects clergy.

The pastors allege that the law is not limited to counseling minors but “prohibits offering such counseling services to any person, regardless of age.”

Aside from demanding protection for their own rights, the group of pastors asked the court for an order “protecting the rights of counselees in their congregations and others to receive pastoral counseling and teaching on the matters of homosexuality.”

“We are most concerned about young people who are seeking the right to choose their own identity,” the pastors’ attorney, John W. Mauck, said in a statement.

“This is an essential human right. However, this law undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer,” he continued.

“Gay conversion therapy” bans have gained traction after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager, committed suicide following her experience with so-called conversion therapy.

Before taking her own life, Alcorn posted on Reddit that her parents had refused her request to transition to a woman.

“The[y] would only let me see biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl,” she wrote of her experience with conversion therapy.

The American Psychological Association, along with a coalition of health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have condemned “gay conversion therapy” as potentially harmful to young people “because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

The White House in 2015 took a stance against so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

Attorneys for the State of Illinois have not yet responded to the pastors’ lawsuit.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

credo_rewire_vote_3

Vote for Rewire and Help Us Earn Money

Rewire is in the running for a CREDO Mobile grant. More votes for Rewire means more CREDO grant money to support our work. Please take a few seconds to help us out!

VOTE!

Thank you for supporting our work!