News Abortion

Tears, Testy Exchanges on Second Day of Texas Abortion Law Trial

Andrea Grimes

On the second day of Texas' omnibus anti-choice law trial, testimony focused on whether abortion providers would be able to obtain hospital admitting privileges under the new law.

On Tuesday, during abortion providers’ second day in court challenging Texas’ new omnibus anti-choice law, the CEO of a group of Texas abortion clinics testified that three of her six locations in the state would close next week if a federal judge does not block the parts of HB 2 that require abortion-providing doctors to secure admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they perform their procedures.

While a coalition of abortion providers and reproductive and social justice groups are asking federal Judge Lee Yeakel to block two provisions of HB 2—one that requires the hospital admitting privileges, and another that mandates medication abortions be prescribed strictly according to 13-year-old Food and Drug Administration labeling—Tuesday’s hearing dealt predominantly with the admitting privileges provision.

“The physicians who are trained in Texas to provide abortion care, who could provide abortion care, are either fearful or unwilling or unable to make the commitment,” testified Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, who described being regularly harassed by protesters and receiving bomb threats because of her business. As a result, she said that she has been so far unable to hire new doctors with hospital admitting privileges, and of her 11 current staff physicians only two have the local admitting privileges that would allow her to keep her Beaumont and Austin clinics open.

Another Whole Woman’s Health corporate representative, Andrea Ferrigno, testified that she has been trying since June to help her group’s doctors obtain admitting privileges at 32 different hospitals in Texas. Many, she testified, never responded to her request for applications at all. Not only do many hospitals have residency requirements for doctors with privileges—many abortion providers travel around the state to provide legal abortion care at a number of locations—but they also want doctors with privileges to generate business for their hospital, which many abortion providers could not do because of legal abortion’s very low complication rate.

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Ferrigno was brought to tears on the stand when describing the impending closure of the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen, in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, which she called her “home.”

“I’m very concerned in general, but the tears come because of McAllen,” testified Ferrigno. Because the only other Rio Grande Valley abortion clinic has announced it will close this month, said Ferrigno, if the Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen shuts its doors, Texans who seek abortions would need to drive hundreds of miles round-trip to get legal procedures in San Antonio or Corpus Christi. “I’m just really concerned about what women are going to do when they can’t access safe services.”

In cross-examination, an attorney for the state suggested that Hagstrom Miller could simply raise the price of all abortions across her clinics’ locations and therefore offer abortion providers more money to work for her.

“Have you considered raising your prices across the board?” Assistant Solicitor General Arthur D’Andrea asked Hagstrom Miller.

“I have considered that,” said Hagstrom Miller, who added that she didn’t feel it was “necessarily ethical” to put the cost burden entirely on patients, many of whom receive private financial aid to afford the $350 to $450 procedures.

D’Andrea pushed back against Hagstrom Miller, saying, “People still respond to incentives, right? If you’ve offered a full-time job and no one has taken you up on it, have you considered you might not be meeting market?”

Hagstrom Miller responded that shaky job security in light of Texas’ increasingly stringent abortion laws and fear for personal safety trumped any salary she might be able to offer, saying that one doctor she’d recruited ultimately decided to take a job in New York for less pay than what Hagstrom Miller could offer in McAllen.

“She took a job in New York City because it was less scary to her than McAllen,” testified Hagstrom Miller.

Before the court adjourned for the day, Judge Yeakel told attorneys that he would hear closing arguments Wednesday morning.

“What I want is focused argument on this statute and why it lives or dies under the law as it exists at this time,” said Yeakel, whose firm but jovial demeanor has lightened two days of proceedings on a tense political issue. He gave each side one hour to conclude their arguments.

“I never count off for not using all of your time,” said Yeakel, “and often, if you look back on my decisions, you can almost see an inverse correlation between how long you take in your argument and what you perceive the extent of justice to be.”

The court reconvenes at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Changes Position on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”

News Politics

Democratic Party Platform: Repeal Bans on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Hillary Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde Amendment.”

Democrats voted on their party platform Monday, codifying for the first time the party’s stated commitment to repealing restrictions on federal funding for abortion care.

The platform includes a call to repeal the Hyde Amendment, an appropriations ban on federal funding for abortion reimplemented on a yearly basis. The amendment disproportionately affects people of color and those with low incomes.

“We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured,” states the Democratic Party platform. “We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”

The platform also calls for an end to the Helms Amendment, which ensures that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.”

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Though Helms allows funding for abortion care in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, the Obama administration has failed to enforce those guarantees.

Despite the platform’s opposition to the restrictions on abortion care funding, it makes no mention of how the anti-choice measures would be rolled back.

Both presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have promised to address Hyde and Helms if elected. Clinton has said she would “fix the Helms Amendment.”

Speaking at the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum in January, Clinton said that the Hyde Amendment “is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.” In 2008, Clinton’s campaign told Rewire that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said in an interview with the Weekly Standard that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

“The Hyde amendment and Helms amendment have prevented countless low-income women from being able to make their own decisions about health, family, and future,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement, addressing an early draft of the platform. “These amendments have ensured that a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion is a right that’s easier to access if you have the resources to afford it. That’s wrong and stands directly in contrast with the Democratic Party’s principles, and we applaud the Party for reaffirming this in the platform.”