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HB 2 Back in Court

The second legal battle to halt House Bill 2 begins Monday morning

By Mary Tuma, Fri., Aug. 1, 2014

The second legal battle to halt House Bill 2 begins Monday in U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel's Austin courtroom. And this time, plaintiffs say they've got an even stronger case.

Texas' four-part abortion law, passed in mid-2013 and effective since last November, bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, forces patients to follow outdated methods when undergoing pharmaceutical abortions, and requires physicians to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where any procedure is performed. To date, the restrictions have wiped out half of the state's abortion-care clinics and increased the number of women who must travel hundreds of miles for services. The final provision, set to take effect Sept. 1, mandates that clinics spend up to $3 million to comply with the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers, another medically unjustified attempt to eliminate abortion services. Reproductive health leaders estimate that as few as six abortion clinics will remain open to serve the entire state if the law is enacted.

Last September, more than a dozen abortion clinics mounted a legal challenge to stop the hospital admitting privileges and pharmaceutical abortion restrictions. Yeakel ruled the first part unconstitutional, but the state appealed, sending the case to a three-judge panel on the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which granted the state's wishes. Providers have asked the full court to rehear the case and now await a response.

However, the clinics also filed a second suit in April to address the ASC requirement, and challenged the admitting-privileges rule for two clinics in underserved communities – the Whole Woman's Health clinic of McAl­len and Reproductive Services of El Paso. Plaintiffs say the law is medically unjustified, places an undue burden on women (especially low-income, rural residents), and exposes them to increased health risks. Representing Texas providers in both cases, the Center for Reproductive Rights tells the Chronicle that the new lawsuit has evidence on its side – while the 5th Circuit previously cast doubt on their dire projections, plaintiffs now possess devastating proof that HB 2 has severely disrupted the health care network. In other words, HB 2's impact is no longer speculative; it's very, very real.

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