Both sides of the women’s health debate offered closing oral arguments today in the court battle over House Bill 2, the historic Pro-Life law that passed the State Legislature in the summer of 2013. In the lawsuit, Whole Woman’s Health vs. Lakey, the plaintiffs asked for relief in two ways: (1)an exemption for two abortion centers from adhering to the admitting privileges requirement, and (2) a nullification of the ambulatory surgical center (ASC) safety standards and structural requirements at abortion clinics.
Judge Lee Yeakel in the US District Court of the Western District of Texas presided over the hearing, and his ruling is expected by September 1. Yeakel has a long track record of ruling against Pro-Life legislation, but he pushed the plaintiffs to fully define exactly what constitutes an “undue burden.”
Stephanie Toti, the lead attorney representing Whole Woman’s Health, and lawyer for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, argued that the law presented a “substantial obstacle” for women choosing abortion and thus the new rules presented an “undue burden.” Toti stated that the state has not demonstrated any medical benefit of HB2, chiding that the state’s purpose was to raise a substantial obstacle for Texan women seeking abortion.
Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell offered the final statements on behalf of the state. Mitchell adroitly reiterated that both Judge Yeakel and the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals have already affirmed HB2. Mitchell noted that just this year, in the preceding lawsuit over HB2, the Fifth Circuit concluded that travel distances alone do not constitute an “undue burden” under the Casey standard. In Planned Parenthood v. Abbott, the Appeals court used 150 miles as a reference point; however, the three-judge panel did not indicate that a farther distance would be burdensome. Additionally, Mitchell relied upon testimony from an expert who showed that 90 to 91% of Texas women will still reside within 150 miles of an ASC-compliant abortion clinic once the law takes effect.
Mitchell used the 24-hour waiting period mandated in the 2011 Sonogram Law as an example. He explained that the Fifth Circuit Court upheld a law with a 24-hour waiting period, which could possibly double the miles a woman travels, and that law still did not constitute an “undue burden.”
The plaintiffs could not provide testimony or statements from individual women who would be impacted negatively by the new law, nor did any abortion companies share plans to provide elective abortions the “underserved” areas of Texas. Planned Parenthood will be opening two new clinics that comply with ASC regulations; however, these new clinics will be located in cities where an ASC abortion clinic is operational, not in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso, where abortion extremists are most upset about clinic closures.
Judge Yeakel’s ruling is expected before the ASC requirements go into effect on September 1. Continue to check TexasRightToLife.com for updates.