The State of Texas presented its first witnesses Wednesday afternoon in a federal court hearing concerning the latest legal challenge to HB 2, wherein Texas abortion providers are seeking an injunction against new regulations that require abortion-providing doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals and mandate that abortion facilities operate at hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers.
The state called four witnesses, two of them medical doctors who testified that they believed admitting privileges ensure a “continuity of care” between abortion facilities and emergency rooms, should complications arise following legal abortion procedures performed in Texas, and that abortion-providing ambulatory surgical centers are necessary to ensure the safety of patients who receive legal abortion care. The law also restricts the prescription of medication abortions and bans abortion after 20 weeks, though those provisions are not being challenged in the current case.
Dr. Mayra Jimenez Thompson, a Dallas obstetrician-gynecologist who said she had a religious objection to abortion care and had not performed an abortion in more than 20 years, testified that she had a “very strong belief that [abortion] is a procedure that needs to be performed in an environment that is the utmost safe to the patient,” specifically an ambulatory surgical center.
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Later, Dr. James Anderson, a Virginia family practice doctor who has also worked in emergency care, testified that from his “anecdotal experience,” the actual complication rate of legal abortion care is higher than what is reported in mainstream medical literature, necessitating regulations requiring abortion-providing doctors to have hospital admitting privileges. Anderson has testified across the United States in similar abortion law trials, though an Alabama federal judge issued an opinion this week that, in part, said the judge had “concerns” about Anderson’s “judgment or honesty” with regard to continuity of care issues in abortion complications.
Counsel for the plaintiffs—a group of independent Texas abortion providers practicing in El Paso, the Rio Grande Valley, central Texas, and north Texas who say the law places an undue burden on their ability to practice, and patients’ abilities to access, legal abortion care—focused on the state experts’ communications with Vincent Rue, a North Carolina psychoanalyst and anti-abortion activist who in the 1980s was among the first to identify what he calls “post-abortion syndrome,” though that “syndrome” is not recognized in mainstream psychological science.
Plaintiffs’ counsel questioned Thompson and Anderson about their work with Rue, highlighting email correspondence that showed Rue telling Thompson in advance of the HB 2 trial in Austin: “I tried to use as much of your material as I could. Time ran out and this is the best I could do.” In the weeks before the trial, Rue also told Thompson, via email, that he was “still drafting” with regard to her expert testimony.
Thompson later testified that whatever Rue’s involvement may have been in helping her craft the “wording” of her testimony, it was “absolutely” hers and hers alone. Anderson repeatedly referred to the assistance Rue provided him as “wordsmithing.”
The state also called a Texas woman, Ashton Fisher Jimenez, who said she was prescribed medication abortion pills from a Planned Parenthood facility in Waco in 2004 and who described her experience taking the pills as being physically painful. Jimenez now works as a licensed counselor with a chain of crisis pregnancy centers and has done a paid speaking engagement for the anti-choice group Texas Alliance for Life.
Though Jimenez testified that she did not know the difference between an abortion clinic and an ambulatory surgical center and was unfamiliar with the process of obtaining hospital admitting privileges, she said she believed HB 2 would be beneficial, in part, because it would make abortion care harder to access as abortion facilities struggle to comply with the law and, therefore, give women like her more time to consider their decisions.
Testimony for the defense will continue Thursday, with closing arguments to follow. Judge Lee Yeakel is expected to issue a decision before September 1, when the final prong of HB 2 requiring abortion facilities to operate as ambulatory surgical centers is set to go into effect.