Texas Health Care Providers in Court to Protect Abortion Access in Texas

Lawsuit seeks to immediately block restrictions that will jeopardize women’s health and interfere with a woman’s ability to make personal medical decisions

(PRESS RELEASE) More than a dozen women’s health care providers across Texas jointly filed a lawsuit today in federal court on behalf of their patients to block two harmful and unconstitutional provisions of a recently enacted and deeply unpopular law that would dramatically reduce women’s ability to access safe and legal abortion in Texas, threatening the health of Texas women who have made the deeply personal and constitutionally-protected decision to end a pregnancy.  

Today’s lawsuit, Planned Parenthood v. Abbott, was jointly filed on behalf of the health care providers by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Texas firm George Brothers Kincaid & Horton.

“Any one of these restrictions would have a devastating impact across the state of Texas,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Together they would be catastrophic, making essential reproductive health care services for many Texans, especially poor and rural women, practically impossible to access. Today’s lawsuit is a united strike back against the hostile politicians who have made clear their willingness to sacrifice the constitutional rights, health, and even lives of Texas women in support of their extremist ideological agenda.” 

The women’s health care providers will ask the court to block the provisions of Texas House Bill 2 with the most immediate, and indeed very far-reaching, impact on women’s health before they take effect October 29, including: 

  • A requirement that physicians who provide abortion must obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, which would not provide any added medical care to patients. This requirement is not applied to any other medical providers, despite the facts that abortion is an extremely safe procedure with less than half of one percent of patients seeking care at a hospital following the procedure and abortion providers in Texas adhere to numerous regulations to uphold patient safety in the rare event of complications. This requirement could cause at least one-third of the state’s licensed health centers providing safe and legal abortion today to stop providing that service next month.  It would completely eliminate access to safe and legal abortion in vast stretches of Texas including the cities Lubbock, Fort Worth, Waco, McAllen, Harlingen and Killeen.
  • Restrictions on the use of medication abortion, a safe and effective method to end an early pregnancy, that would require a woman to follow an inferior, outdated, and less effective protocol.

“We’re in court today to stop a terrible situation for women in Texas from getting even worse,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Politicians are interfering with the personal medical decisions of women who already have the least access to birth control and preventive health care. If this law goes into effect, there is no doubt it will end access to safe and legal abortion for many women, leaving some to resort to desperate and dangerous measures. We won’t let that happen.”

According to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, led by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, Ibis Reproductive Health, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, more than 130,000 women have been forced to go without preventive health care since the 2011 Texas Legislature slashed funding for women’s health, and tens of thousands more are expected to go without care since Planned Parenthood was banned from the Women’s Health Program last year. These researchers also found that nearly half of women seeking an abortion in Texas were unable to access their preferred birth control method in the months prior to their unintended pregnancy.   

The provisions challenged in court today are part of a package of legislation which was signed by Governor Rick Perry on July 18 following a series of special legislative sessions, but was opposed by 80 percent of Texas voters, according to a poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.  Medical experts in Texas and across the country, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Texas Medical Association, and Texas Hospital Association, also publicly opposed provisions in the law because they provide no medical benefit to women and will actually jeopardize women’s health and safety. 

The law has a separate provision, not a part of today’s suit, that requires every health center providing abortion services to meet stringent, medically unnecessary building standards — such as the specific hallway widths and the flooring and outfitting of janitors’ closets — by September 2014.  

“This law is part of a coordinated national strategy to shut down women’s health centers and outlaw abortion all across the country,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU. “In Texas and across the nation, people are standing up to tell politicians to stop interfering in a woman’s private decisions. We are part of this lawsuit because Americans know that these deeply personal decisions must be made by a woman, her family, and her doctor, not by a politician sitting in the capitol.”  

Courts have blocked similar provisions in other states across the country. Admitting privileges requirements aimed at shutting down all or most of the abortion providers in Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Wisconsin have been halted before they took effect. State courts in North Dakota and Oklahoma have permanently struck down unconstitutional restrictions on medication abortion. 

  • The Center for Reproductive Rights represents Whole Woman’s Health which has clinics in Austin, Beaumont, Fort Worth, McAllen, and San Antonio; Austin Women’s Health Center and Killeen Women’s Health Center; Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center in Dallas; West Side Clinic, Inc., in Fort Worth, Dr. Alan Braid in San Antonio; Dr. Pam Richter in El Paso, and Dr. Lamar Robinson in Dallas. 
  • Attorneys from Planned Parenthood Federation of America represent Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Services, which provides abortions in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Waco; Planned Parenthood Women’s Health Center in Lubbock; Planned Parenthood Center for Choice in Houston; and Planned Parenthood Sexual Healthcare Services in San Antonio. 
  • The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas represent the Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center in Dallas, as well as Routh Street Women’s Clinic in Dallas and Houston Women’s Clinic. 
  • All of the Plaintiffs are represented by the Austin firm George Brothers Kincaid & Horton.