On January 7, one day before the beginning of the 86th Legislature, federal District Judge Lee Yeakel held a crucial hearing on a lawsuit aiming to invalidate nearly every Texas Pro-Life law passed in the last three decades. The one-hour hearing focused on a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the attorneys representing the state of Texas.
The lawsuit, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance v. Paxton, is controversial because many of the dozens of laws challenged have been in place for decades and, in some cases, been explicitly declared constitutional by federal courts. The Pro-Life laws challenged include requirements that abortions be provided by physicians, that abortion facilities be licensed and inspected, and that abortion facilities meet basic clinical safety standards. To challenge laws well-established as constitutional by court precedent requires extraordinary circumstances, circumstances which the abortion industry failed to prove in the hearing.
Unfortunately, Yeakel has a history of siding with the abortion industry. His remarks even before hearing the arguments showed his inclination to repeat this pattern. Yeakel stated that motions to dismiss should be granted sparingly, then said he understood little of the points made by both sides in their briefs. He chastised the State’s lengthy brief and asked both sides to pare down their arguments, a nearly impossible feat given the fact that the abortion industry is challenging more than sixty Pro-Life policies with sweeping generalizations. Yeakel also brought up the possibility of not ruling in favor of either side, but instead asking both sides to re-plead their case more concisely. However, even this would alter the abortion industry’s current strategy in this lawsuit to challenge everything and see what sticks. Accordingly, Attorney General Ken Paxton has called this ambitious lawsuit a “shotgun pleading.”
In the hearing, Beth Klusmann, arguing for the Attorney General’s office, pointed out the stark contrast between the abortion industry’s extraordinary requests and the lack of factual basis for their claim that all the laws challenged present an undue burden for women seeking abortions. These regulations include requiring the abortionist to inform the patient of his name and requiring the abortion clinic to comply with basic sterilization procedures. Klusmann also argued that the abortionists cannot reasonably file on behalf of patients’ best interests because the facts show clearly that the interests of the abortion industry conflict directly with those of Texas women. Klusmann also argued that in bringing so many claims, many of which were clearly without merit and already decided by previous court cases, the abortion industry has effectively asked the court to rewrite abortion law altogether rather than grant relief to specific alleged harms. The abortion industry’s lawsuit is conjectural and self-serving.
Stephanie Toti, arguing for the abortion providers, presented several weak arguments about the potential harms caused to women seeking abortions. When pressed for facts from Judge Yeakel, she first argued that factual basis was not required at this stage, then requested that she be granted leave to re-plead her complaint if the judge disagreed with her. Toti repeatedly asked for this type of favoritism, which is uncommon in federal court cases. Essentially, she was asking for the state, and the court, to do the work of sifting through the abortion clinic’s wild accusations to see which arguments and claims had more merit than others.
The dismissal stage of a case is intended precisely to prevent wasting time and resources on meritless court battles, a response clearly appropriate to this vague and overreaching lawsuit. One can only hope that Judge Yeakel agrees, although his past tendency has clearly been to err on the side of the abortion industry. Although no timeline for a ruling was discussed and the possibility of a request to re-plead was raised, Texas Right to Life hopes this audacious case will be dismissed soon. Stay tuned to TexasRightToLife.com for developments.