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Lawyers, Experts Discuss Impact of Texas Antiabortion Law During First Day of Trial

August 5, 2014 — A federal court on Monday heard opening arguments in a case over the constitutionality of a provision in a Texas law (HB 2) that requires abortion facilities to meet the same building requirements as hospital-style surgical centers, the New York Times reports (Fernandez/Eckholm, New York Times, 8/4).

The ambulatory surgical centers provision is scheduled to take effect on Sept. 1. The Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the suit on behalf of several abortion providers in the state, is asking the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas to block the provision (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/4).

Initial Arguments

On Monday, Jan Soifer, a lawyer representing CRR, argued that if the provision took effect, roughly one million women of reproductive age in Texas would live more than 150 miles from an abortion facility. She said the distance would "expos[e] women to greater health risks," such as self-induced abortion.

Daniel Grossman -- a co-investigator with the Texas Policy Evaluation Project and expert witness at the trial -- said that the provision will cause more than 12 clinics to shut down, leaving Texas with fewer than 10 abortion facilities. According to the Times, those facilities will all be located in major metropolitan areas, while there will be no provider in mostly rural areas south and west of San Antonio.

The plaintiff's attorneys also contested the law's admitting privileges requirement as unwarranted, noting that one of the plaintiffs -- Whole Woman's Health in the Rio Grande Valley -- had to shut down primarily because the physicians working there were unable to comply with the requirement.

Meanwhile, James Blacklock, a state deputy attorney general, said that abortion providers were not having difficulty complying with the mandate but rather were opting not to comply "because they disagree with the law." In court Monday and through filings, lawyers from the state attorney general's office also argued that abortion providers were exaggerating the effect of the provision. Further, they said that new facilities currently under construction or being considered would be able to meet the demand for abortion services.

The state noted that at least 27 states have similar laws, although the specific building requirements differ, and they contested claims that women would have to travel more than 500 miles from El Paso to San Antonio for an abortion, noting that women in El Paso could easily access a more convenient facility in New Mexico (New York Times, 8/4).