Posted on October 23, 2013 at 6:08 PM
Wednesday, Oct 23 at 8:18 PM
AUSTIN -- The next fate of the most controversial anti-abortion legislation in Texas history is now in the hands of a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel is expected to reach a decision by Monday, after arguments wrapped up Wednesday morning in a lawsuit filed by abortion providers seeking to put parts of House Bill 2 (HB 2) on pause pending the suit's appeal.
Beginning next Tuesday abortion providers must obtain hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of their clinic and comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's more expensive, higher dosage final printed label (FPL) recommendations when administering abortion-inducing drugs.
Attorneys representing Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers say together the laws would close more than a dozen clinics and block thousands of women from getting abortions, as well as subject women seeking medical abortions to outdated dosing regimens that have since been replaced by safer, evidence-based regimens developed within the industry.
"We think that we have made our case that these requirements are unnecessary and are really harmful," said attorney Janet Crepps with the Center for Reproductive Rights, who delivered the final arguments for the plaintiffs Wednesday morning.
If the law were to go into effect as scheduled Oct. 29, Planned Parenthood's only Austin abortion clinic would immediately stop performing procedures until physicians practicing at the clinic are able to obtain the required admitting privileges, a process which is uncertain and could take several months.
Planned Parenthood's clinic on Ben White is the city's only abortion provider that is also an ambulatory surgical center (ASC), and under a different part of the law that goes into effect next September, the city's remaining three providers would have to convert to the same ASC standards or stop performing the procedures as well.
In Bexar County, plaintiffs in the lawsuit say two of the five area abortion clinics would be closed on Tuesday. Of the three remaining clinics, one would have extremely limited capacity.
The controversial legislation has been marked by demonstrations from abortion rights supporters as well as opponents. A filibuster forced it into a second special session, where it was passed largely along party lines. All along, lawmakers on both sides acknowledged the legislative battle was only beginning.
"Obviously the folks that oppose it are going to sue. I mean that's just a given," state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), the bill's author, told KVUE after HB 2 cleared the Texas House in July. On the same day, state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) remarked, "Clearly there's some constitutional issues here that are going to be challenged."
"When that battle leaves the statehouse, it is going to end up in the courthouse," Attorney General Greg Abbott (R-Texas) told a cheering rally of abortion rights opponents the same month. "And when it does, in me you have an attorney general who has your back!"
Attorneys for the state argue the restrictions aren't an unconstitutional burden concluding that they protect the state's interest in preserving fetal life. The state's position is that the legislation does not need to prove medically beneficial in order to advance that interest, and the burden is on the plaintiffs to show the law is unconstitutional in every aspect of its application.
"I believe that if women are going to have abortions, that they deserve the highest standard of care," said HB 2 supporter Christina Durbin, who was in attendance for the trial's closing arguments Wednesday.
Any decision is expected to be appealed. The question is whether the laws would be enjoined or allowed to take effect during the appeal process. Judge Yeakel has promised an expedited decision, which is expected no later than Monday.