Planned Parenthood Fires Back at Texas Abortion Bill in Federal Court

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Planned Parenthood today fired the next volley in the battle to stop the enforcement and implementation of HB2, the odious bill that effectively shuts down access to reproductive health services for most women in Texas.  

The complaint, filed by several Planned Parenthood providers and Texas medical providers in federal district court in Austin today, names as defendants Greg Abbott; David Lakey, the Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services; and Mari Robinson, Executive Director of the Texas Medical Board.  It also names the county attorneys for the counties of Travis, Dallas, Harris, Lubbock, Bell, Tarrant, Hidalgo, Bexar, McLennan, and El Paso counties, as those county attorneys would be responsible for enforcing the provisions of HB2, should it ever go into effect.

The complaint asks the federal court to issue a declaratory judgment that the admitting privileges requirement and the medication abortion restrictions of HB 2 are unconstitutional and unenforceable, and to issue preliminary and permanent injunctive relief restraining the defendants from enforcing those same two provisions of HB2.  The ultimate goal of the complaint is the permanent injunction; however, because it is extremely unlikely that a trial on the merits could be had before the law is due to go into effect in October, preliminary injunctive relief is also requested.  It can be granted more quickly, and Planned Parenthood's burden is different when seeking preliminary relief.

To see HB2's civil rights violations and deleterious effects on women's health, read below the jump.According to the complaint, the two offending provisions violate the U.S. Constitution and federal law in several ways.  They place an undue burden on women seeking abortions, fail to give fair notice of the requirements of the law, leaving providers subject to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, and deprive patients and physicians of a constitutionally adequate attempt to comply thereby violating guarantees of procedural due process, with the end result being violations of the plaintiffs' civil rights by government actors and agents under Section 1983 and violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

According to the complaint, the offending provisions subject women and their medical providers to the following sanctions:

“[The] admitting privileges requirement, mandates that a physician performing or inducing an abortion “must, on the date the abortion is performed or induced, have active admitting privileges at a hospital” that is not further than 30 miles from the location of the abortion and that provides obstetrical or gynecological health care services. Any physician who violates these provisions commits a Class A misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $4,000, in addition to being subject to license revocation, and rendering the abortion facility subject to license revocation.”

“[The]medication abortion restrictions, provides that a physician cannot “give, sell, dispense, administer, provide, or prescribe an abortion-inducing drug” to a patient unless “the provision, prescription, or administration . . . satisfies the protocol tested and authorized by the United States Food and Drug Administration as outlined in the final printed label of the abortion-inducing drug.” The only exception to the FDA requirement is that a “person may provide, prescribe, or administer the abortion-inducing drug in the dosage amount prescribed by the clinical management guidelines defined by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists [(“ACOG”)] Practice Bulletin as those guidelines existed on January 1, 2013.” In addition, this Section of the Act not only mandates that a physician examine the patient before prescribing an “abortion-inducing drug,” but also that only physicians may give, dispense, administer, or provide such a drug to a woman. The physician must also ensure that a follow-up visit is scheduled “to occur not more than 14 days after the administration or use of the drug” at which “the physician must: (1) confirm that the pregnancy is completely terminated; and (2) assess the degree of bleeding.” Any violation of the medication abortion restrictions subjects a physician to administrative and disciplinary penalties, including possible license revocation.”

As a practical matter, according to the complaint, women living between El Paso and Interstate 35 will not have real or meaningful access to abortions and any number of other reproductive health services.

“If the medication abortion restrictions and admitting privileges requirement are allowed to take effect on October 29, more than one-third of the state's licensed abortion facilities will be forced to stop offering abortions altogether, eliminating services entirely in Fort Worth, Harlingen, Killeen, Lubbock, McAllen, and Waco. Other facilities will be forced to decrease the number of abortions they provide. Many women will be unable to obtain a medication abortion. This will be devastating for Texas women, particularly low-income women, women who are victims of rape or abuse, women who need abortions later in pregnancy, and those who live outside of major metropolitan areas. As a practical matter, women living west of Interstate 35 and East of El Paso will not have real access to abortions. At least 1 in 12 women will have to travel more than 100 miles to obtain abortion care. As a result, some women will be unable to obtain abortion care.”

In conjunction with the filing in federal court the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) released a statement:

“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.”

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America added the following:

“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.”

The statement included the following facts:

-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;

-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;

-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.

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