Texas abortion clinics ask judge to stop new law

Nearly three-quarters of Texas’ abortion facilities are set to close by the end of this month if one of the toughest new anti-abortion laws in the nation is allowed to take effect. Attorneys representing these clinics are appealing their case to a judge.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin will rule on this challenge to the abortion restrictions that Texas’ Republican-led Legislature passed in the past year. Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who is also the favorite to become governor, is defending these restrictions. A similar trial over abortion restrictions is taking place in Alabama.

There are 18 abortion clinics operating in Texas. All of them would close if the law set to take effect Sept. 1 comes to pass. That law would require the clinics to meet the same standards as surgical centers. That would leave just seven places for women to legally terminate a pregnancy in Texas. All of these will be in large cities and many of them are funded by Planned Parenthood. Some people will have to drive up to four hours to get an abortion in the state. Some are stating that they can also go across state lines to get abortions.

“We all know they can go 10-15 minutes down the street into New Mexico,” Jimmy Blacklock, a deputy attorney general, said in defending the restrictions.

A U.S. appeals court in the past week took a dim view of that argument over a Mississippi law that would close that state’s only abortion clinic. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Mississippi may not shift its obligation for established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state. That would leave the people of Texas to get their abortion services within the state.

Blacklock, who acknowledged that decision in his opening arguments, said that the Texas restrictions ensures women’s health. He said 85 percent of Texas women would still live within a three-hour drive of an abortion provider when the law takes effect. Abortion providers say that they don’t have the money to upgrade facilities or build new ones that meet the more rigid requirements of surgical centers. They told Yeakel that nearly 1 million women in Texas would be further than 150 miles from an abortion provider and said that more women will attempt to terminate their own pregnancies without the proper tools.

“This will actually expose women to greater health risks,” Jan Soifer said in defending women who seek to terminate pregnancies.

Abortion-rights supporters and opponents packed the federal courthouse in Austin again, as it was during the initial debates.