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As Judges Hear Oral Arguments, Texas Abortion Bill Appears to Have Support of Fifth Circuit Panel

by: Genevieve Cato

Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 04:30 PM CST

Photo via Andrea Grimes at RH Reality Check

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments about Texas' omnibus abortion bill, House Bill 2, today in New Orleans. These arguments are a part of the case filed by Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, and a coalition of abortion providers in the state. Judging by the makeup of the panel, including two of the judges who stayed the injunction against the law's implementation in October and the vocally conservative Judge Edith Jones, it is unlikely that this panel will agree that the two provisions in question - the requirement of admitting privileges and the administration practices for RU-486 - are unconstitutional.

More on the hearing and the provisions in question below the jump.

The complaint filed against the state focuses on two provisions in House Bill 2, which the plaintiffs argue are unconstitutional and place an undue burden on Texans seeking abortion services. It challenges the provision requiring physicians providing abortions to have admitting priviliges at a hospital within thirty miles of the facility where the abortion is provided and the provision that requires physicians to follow FDA standards for administering medical abortions - standards that have been found to be unnecessary since they were established and that have now been replaced by more effective practices.

As Andrea Grimes of RH Reality Check reports, the opposition to these provisions came under intense scrutiny today during the oral arguments.  

At least one of the judges had questions for both sides, according to the Wall Street Journal. Judge Catharina Haynes questioned the choice of 30 miles in the admitting privileges provision, asking what made this distance the "magic" number in protecting women's health. Haynes also challenged the relevance of focusing on regional impact, saying that while "HB 2 may be a problem in the Rio Grande Valley," this would not necessarily impact the constitutionality of the law.

Haynes questioned the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) who, along with the American Medical Association (AMA) filed an amicus brief in support of these arguments, citing many flaws in the two provisions and arguing that both put women's health at risk. She asked why more of ACOG's members didn't provide abortion services, since the organization recognizes abortion as a necessary medical procedure for family planning and women's health.

Judge Edith Jones questioned the real burden of increased travel for women in the Rio Grande Valley, who now have no local abortion providers, as the highway they have to travel for hours in both directions is "peculiarly flat" and isn't all that "congested." Judge Jones also was not convinced by the argument that physicians face genuine fear of violence when they choose to provide abortions, and argued that Texas was within its right to continue to implement these provisions, because "states may regulate the practice of medicine," and "this is the regulation of the practice of medicine."

It is unclear how soon the court will come to a decision, but Janet Crepps from the Center for Reproductive Rights believes the process will be over in a few weeks. Though the Supreme Court chose not to challenge the Fifth Circuit's stay of Judge Yeakel's injunction last year, it seems highly likely the case in its entirety will end up before the court for a final decision.  

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