Reproductive rights advocates shifted the battle over abortion access from the Capitol to the courtroom on Friday.
Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights and a handful of abortion providers filed suit in federal court to block implementation of some key portions of House Bill 2, the legislation that seeks to further regulate the procedure.
The suit is seeking an injunction to block the provision requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the procedure, which, critics say, would severely limit access to the procedure for rural and low-income women. It also asks a federal judge to temporarily block the provision mandating providers to give patients abortion-inducing medication in person.
“Any of these restrictions would have a devastating impact on women across Texas, but together, they’re catastrophic,” said Nancy Northup, president of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights. “This is an affront to more than four decades of Supreme Court precedent protecting women’s rights to make their own decisions about their health.”
Without an injunction, those provisions will begin Oct. 29.
The suit does not target other key portions of that legislation, including the ban on abortions after 20 weeks and a provision requiring clinics that provide abortions be licensed as ambulatory surgery centers. These would go into effect in September 2014.
Of the 36 licensed abortion providers in the state, just six are licensed in a way that would allow them to perform abortions should that provision become law, the advocates say. Jim George, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said they chose not to target the 20-week ban because “statistically, fewer women are affected.”
Proponents of that ban cite disputed data that the fetus can feel pain that far into the pregnancy.
According to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, 1 percent of all the abortions performed in the United States are after 20 weeks of gestation. To the advocates, of the most import are the provisions that become law next month, which they argue would affect many more women.
Should abortion providers be required to have admitting privileges, the advocates argue that 13 of the state’s clinics would shutter while others would have to cut services.
“The statute has a dramatic and draconian effect on access,” George said. “As of today, if this bill went into effect, no one would have the right to perform an abortion living west of I-35 and east of El Paso, Texas.”
If that admitting privilege rule becomes law, the plaintiffs argue that the abortions will be illegal to perform in Lubbock, Fort Worth, Waco, McAllen, Harlingen and Killeen.
Texas is hardly the only state embroiled in a fight over reproductive rights. Federal judges in Mississippi, Alabama, Wisconsin and North Dakota have issued temporary injunctions blocking similar laws until the courts can rule on their constitutionality.
“That’s what’s happening in the nation right now; women’s rights depend on where they live,” Northup said. “Whether in Texas, Mississippi, or North Dakota, women shouldn’t have to go to court after every legislative session to protect their reproductive rights.”
If the judge grants the Texas group’s request for an injunction, George expects Attorney General Greg Abbott to appeal in a fifths circuit court.
Abbott, who is named as a defendant in the suit, has not commented on the litigation. George said all the defendants –– which include Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and district attorneys in the state’s largest counties, including Dallas and Tarrant –– have been emailed a copy of it.
While supporters have said the legislation would bolster safety for women receiving abortions, advocates say the true intention is to eradicate abortion in wide areas of the state.
They point to aggressive speech from Texas’s two highest public officials, Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst. Both have expressed their wishes to vanish the procedure here, with Perry once saying to a pro-life group that he hopes to “make abortion, at any stage, a thing of the past.”
“The real purpose of this law is to make it impossible for a woman to get an abortion,” said Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “Some politicians even admitted as much.”
Kyleen Wright, spokeswoman for Arlington-based Texans for Life, welcomed the lawsuit. She said she is confident the legislation will be upheld in court and written into law. She also argued that the abortion rights advocates had enough time to get doctors approved for admitting privileges before the legislation goes into effect on Oct. 29.
“They’re buying themselves a little time, but they’re digging their hole a little deeper. It allows us to take the case to Texans,” Wright said. “They’ve had three, almost four months to get admitting privileges for their doctors since the bill was passed. They knew it was coming, it’s not like they just found out today.”
The legislation was passed in July after a contentious end to the regular session. State Sen. Wendy Davis, D – Fort Worth, staged a 13 hour filibuster of the bill to close the session, launching her into the political stratosphere. She’s expected to announce a run for governor next week.
However, the filibuster was all for naught –– Gov. Rick Perry immediately called the Senate back for a special session and the legislation was passed.
News 8's Jason Whitely contributed to this report