HB 2 Final Arguments
Judge Yeakel expected to rule before Sept. 1
Closing arguments took place Wednesday morning in the trial of the lawsuit against provisions of Texas' abortion law, House Bill 2. Plaintiffs suing the state to block implementation of parts of the law reiterated that the legislation poses an "undue burden" on abortion-seeking women, by requiring them to travel long distances for care, and imposing medically unnecessary facility standards. Also, they argued, it will cause a "public health catastrophe" by eliminating abortion access in most parts of the state. Speaking for the state of Texas, defendants' counsel responded that the law will not impose a substantial burden on women.
Stefanie Toti, representing the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the requirements imposed by the Ambulatory Surgical Center rules single out abortion providers, as three-fourths of other ASCs in the state are exempt from the costly building code requirements – effectively amounting to a multi-million-dollar tax on abortion providers.
The state provided no medical evidence to show the law is necessary or promotes the health and safety of women, said Toti. As few as seven abortion clinics would survive the law, creating a "substantial obstacle" for women who do not live in one of the five metro areas where remaining providers exist. The state is trying to do indirectly what it cannot do directly since Roe v. Wade, said Toti – eliminate abortion services from huge regions of the state.
Judge Lee Yeakel sounded sympathetic: "I have a problem believing it's okay to send someone 150 miles away for care when they could get it closer," he commented.
State Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell relied heavily on a previous ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had found in favor of HB 2. While the definition of undue burden to women is not necessarily clear, the impact of the law would not "come close" to even a minimal standard of burden, said Mitchell, as 83% of Texas women will live within 150 miles of an abortion clinic. Plaintiffs failed to show that any patient would not be able to obtain abortion services as a result of HB 2, said Mitchell.
The state also sought to defend as common practice anti-abortion advocate Vincent Rue's paid consultant work for the Attorney General – including extensive editing and drafting of defendant testimony. But Judge Yeakel slammed the AG's office, saying the "state effectively tried to hide Rue's involvement," and describing the evidence as "very disturbing" in the eyes of the court.
Yeakel is expected to issue a ruling before Sept. 1, when the final provisions of HB 2 are set to take effect.