Texas Abortion Providers Launch Another Round of Court Battles Over Restrictions

Protestors packed the Texas Capitol to demand legislators not pass HB2, which was later struck down in the Supreme Court after legislators didn't listen.
Protestors packed the Texas Capitol to demand legislators not pass HB2, which was later struck down in the Supreme Court after legislators didn't listen. Blackbird Film Co./Flickr
Just a year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down stringent abortion restrictions passed by the Texas Legislature in 2013, Planned Parenthood, other abortion providers and the Center for Reproductive Rights have launched a new abortion court battle against the state.

The Legislators recently passed a law, Senate Bill 8, that would ban the most common procedure for second-trimester abortions, called dilation and evacuation, and would impose criminal penalties on any abortion provider who flouts the ban. Republican lawmakers characterized the procedure as "dismemberment" of the fetus. In its lawsuit filed yesterday, the Center for Reproductive Rights argues that this ban creates an undue burden for women seeking abortion in the second trimester, who may only be seeking one at that point because of a delay in learning of their pregnancy, or because they had to take time to raise the funds for the procedure.

“Texas lawmakers have once again compromised the health and safety of the women they were elected to represent in order to cater to anti-choice special interests and their extremist agenda," Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “The law we challenged today is part of a nationwide scheme to undermine these constitutional rights and ban abortion one restriction at a time. We are prepared to fight back using the power of the law wherever politicians compromise a woman’s ability to receive the care she needs."

The plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to block the law from going into effect on September 1.

SB8 was just one of several abortion restrictions passed during the regular session or that are being debated now, during the special session.

The Center for Reproductive Rights noted that just four days after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the infamous abortion bill HB2 — which in requiring abortion clinics to upgrade to surgical centers would have shuttered all but eight of them — state GOP leaders quietly proposed a new rule that would require all abortion providers to bury or cremate fetuses. Despite the center's threats to sue over the new rule, Texas Health and Human Services continued with it anyway, and — surprise — the center sued and a court blocked the rule, saying that it served no legitimate health purpose. Instead of seeing the writing on the wall, GOP legislators tacked the fetus cremation measure onto SB8 in spite of the already-existing court battle.

But Texas almost seems to enjoy a good abortion court battle, apparently undeterred by repeated losses in the federal courts. Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement that "we are honored to defend SB8 in court."

“Dismemberment abortions are a gruesome and inhumane method of ending human life. Senate Bill 8 protects the dignity and sanctity of life, along with the integrity of the medical profession," he said.

The Center for Reproductive Rights claims that ending second trimester abortions deprives women of the safest procedure, forcing them to instead "undergo more complex and risky procedures, including compelling them to undergo painful, untested and invasive medical procedures, in order to access their constitutional right to abortion."

Its claim that this restriction places an undue burden on women is the exact argument it used to shut down HB2 in the Supreme Court.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn