Groups Plot Litigation Strategy Against Texas Omnibus Antiabortion Bill
July 17, 2013 — Groups that support abortion rights are evaluating their options for challenging an omnibus antiabortion-rights bill (HB 2) while they wait for Gov. Rick Perry (R) to sign the legislation, Kaiser Health News/Texas Tribune reports. Once signed by the governor, the bill would take effect 91 days after the end of an ongoing special legislative session, according to KHN/Tribune (Luthra, Kaiser Health News/Texas Tribune, 7/17).
The measure includes four abortion regulations that failed to progress in either chamber of the Legislature during the regular session: a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless a woman's life is in danger, a requirement that abortions be performed at an ambulatory surgical center, a mandate that physicians administer medication abortion drugs in person and a requirement that physicians who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
The state Senate approved the bill during a second special session convened after state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) successfully filibustered the measure during the first special session (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/15).
ACLU, CRR, Planned Parenthood Weigh Options
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood Federation of America have indicated they are considering lawsuits against the legislation.
Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, explained that challenges to the law likely would be based on the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade, as well as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which held that states cannot enact overly burdensome obstacles to abortion. Crepps added that an initial lawsuit probably would focus on the 20-week ban, the medication abortion regulations and the hospital admitting-privileges requirement. The fourth component -- which requires that abortion clinics meet ambulatory surgical center standards -- does not take effect until 2014.
ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke said any litigation would be part of a larger strategy designed to influence elections as well. "There are no decisions about litigation, but I think that may be the course we have to follow," she said, noting that reproductive-rights groups have to wait until Perry has signed the legislation before they can file a challenge.
Both Burke and Crepps indicated that a suit likely would be filed before the law is scheduled to take effect, in the hopes that a judge would block some components from being implemented. According to KHN/Tribune, similar provisions have been put on hold or struck down in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin.
Law's Supporters Comment on Legal Challenges
Jerry Strickland, spokesperson for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R), said the attorney general's office "will be prepared to defend the law in court."
Separately, Texans for Life President Kyleen Wright suggested that opponents of the law might not challenge the provision requiring abortion facilities to meet ambulatory surgical center standards because the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "supports reasonable restrictions" for abortion providers. However, she acknowledged that the bill's 20-week abortion ban is "pushing the envelope a bit" (Kaiser Health News/Texas Tribune, 7/17).