News Law and Policy

Texas Abortion Providers Testify of Struggles in Wake of HB 2

Andrea Grimes

Two Texas abortion providers testified in federal court today about the difficulties they say they've faced keeping their doors open after the passage of Texas' omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2.

Read more of our coverage on the HB 2 hearing here.

Two Texas abortion providers—one of which has ceased operating entirely in the state, the other of which has closed three of her five Texas facilities—testified in federal court today about the difficulties they say they’ve faced keeping their doors open after the passage of HB 2, the omnibus anti-abortion law that could shutter all but a handful of legal abortion clinics in Texas.

Plaintiff Marilyn Eldridge, who opened the El Paso Reproductive Services clinic with her husband, a minister, just after the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, said that her group had briefly considered opening nearby in New Mexico after HB 2, though that was no longer an option.

“We are Texans, and we would like to be able to stay in Texas,” she said. Eldridge’s clinic began offering adoption services as part of its operations in the 1980s, and she testified that her clinic had placed more than 800 children for adoption in Texas and Oklahoma since that time.

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But Reproductive Services in El Paso shuttered earlier this year when the clinic entered into a dispute with the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), which said that Dr. Pamela Richter, who practiced at Reproductive Services, had lost her admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, as newly required by HB 2. Richter and Reproductive Services maintain that Richter had been granted temporary admitting privileges and never violated HB 2.

The law also bans abortion after 20 weeks, restricts the prescription of medication abortions, and mandates that abortion facilities operate as hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs).

Part of this week’s federal court challenge concerns HB 2’s ASC requirement, which will go into effect September 1 barring an injunction from the judge. It is that ASC requirement that is expected to shutter all but six existing abortion-providing ASCs in Texas, and which abortion providers in the state have struggled to meet in advance of the September deadline.

Another plaintiff in the case, Amy Hagstrom Miller, the founder and CEO at Whole Woman’s Health—a group of abortion facilities that once had five locations in Texas—testified that HB 2 has forced her to close all but two of her Texas facilities, a clinic in Fort Worth and an ASC in San Antonio. She said that over the last year, Whole Woman’s conducted an extensive search in hopes of opening an abortion-providing ASC elsewhere in Texas, either by purchasing an existing ASC, building or remodeling an existing facility, or leasing an existing ASC, to no avail.

One barrier, said Hagstrom Miller, was obtaining financing to operate million-dollar facilities that could be shut down in the next legislative session if state lawmakers pass more legislation like HB 2.

“People felt like an investment in Texas was very risky,” said Hagstrom Miller. She said that potential investors asked her, “‘How do you know another law won’t pass that will prevent you from being able to provide abortions at ASCs?'”

Hagstrom Miller testified that her doctors had had trouble obtaining admitting privileges in South Texas, another barrier to her ability to open an ASC in the Rio Grande Valley—ASC regulations require that doctors on staff have admitting privileges, regardless of the nature of the services they provide.

Hospitals in the Valley require a physician with existing admitting privileges to sponsor another physician’s application, said Hagstrom Miller, and Whole Woman’s was able to find only one physician who would act as an application sponsor for an abortion provider. Many, she said, were concerned about potentially violent repercussions from anti-choice protestors who had previously been seen outside the Whole Woman’s clinic in McAllen.

“Some physicians worried about safety,” said Hagstrom Miller, “and worried they would attract attention even by co-signing.”

The hospital at which the potential co-sponsor currently practices declined to provide Whole Woman’s with an application for privileges, though it said its decision had nothing to do with the “clinical competency” of the Whole Woman’s physicians.

Lawyers representing the State of Texas peppered Hagstrom Miller with questions about state-mandated abortion complication reports generated by Whole Woman’s and inspections conducted by DSHS at Whole Woman’s facilities, while Hagstrom Miller said that DSHS inspectors had become tense—”almost to the point of having it feel adversarial”—ever since Whole Woman’s participated in another federal lawsuit, filed in 2013, challenging other provisions of HB 2.

More than half of Texas legal abortion providers have closed since parts of HB 2 went into effect, down to 19 clinics from more than forty in the summer of 2013, before the bill that would become HB 2 was proposed and, despite a 13-hour filibuster from state Sen. Wendy Davis, ultimately passed.

The State of Texas will begin presenting its witnesses Wednesday afternoon, and the trial is expected to conclude by the end of the week, though the case could ultimately make its way all the way to the Supreme Court.

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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