An advocacy group filed another federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging a new provision in Texas' tough restrictions on abortion, less than a week after a federal appeals court reversed a previous suit and found that the stricter limits don't impose an undue burden on women's health.
The Center for Reproductive Rights asked an Austin-based judge to block enforcement of key portions of the law, including some which have yet to take effect.
The suit is the first of its kind to challenge a provision of the law beginning Sept. 1 which mandates that all abortions, even those induced using medication, take place in an ambulatory surgical center. The suit says the requirement would force clinics to undertake upgrades of their facilities that are so costly that all but "fewer than 10 clinics" in a state with 13 million women would close. Currently, 24 clinics provide abortions across Texas.
"We filed this lawsuit to stop the second-largest state in the nation from plunging millions of women back into the darkness and grave danger of illegal abortion that Roe v. Wade was supposed to end," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
Since October, the law has required abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the clinic where they perform the procedure, that they follow strict instructions for pill-induced medical abortions and only perform abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy if the health of the mother is in danger or the fetus is not viable.
As with the previous suit, this one challenges the admitting privileges provision, this time on behalf of Whole Woman's Health in McAllen and Reproductive Health Services in El Paso, which the Center for Reproductive Rights says may close despite being "among the last, if not the only, providers offering abortion care in their communities."
Still unchallenged, meanwhile, is the 20-week ban, since the vast majority of abortions are performed prior to that threshold. The latest lawsuit also doesn't question specific rules on medication-induced abortion other than as part of the surgical-center requirement.
Critics say the law simply is an effort to over-regulate abortion out of existence in Texas, though supporters maintain that it is about protecting women's safety.
The law threw the Republican-controlled state Legislature into chaos before it was overwhelmingly approved last summer. It was temporarily delayed by a 12-plus hour filibuster by Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, who is now running for governor, and amid massive protests on both sides of the issue at the state Capitol.
It is now being defended in court by the office of Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is favored to beat Davis in the gubernatorial race.
The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights says 19 clinics have already stopped providing abortions since the law took effect and the coming restrictions will force more to do so -- though the Texas Health and Human Services Commission says the number of clinics that actually closed is fewer than half that.
In response to the original suit brought by Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin ruled against enforcement of the admitting privileges rule and requirements for the use of only federally approved protocols for drug-abortions.
The law, though, was allowed to remain in place during an appeal to the New Orleans-based U.S. 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where a panel of judges upheld it on March 27, ruling in part that the legal challenge came before opponents of the law had time to collect evidence it was affecting women's health.
Texas' law requires the use of only federally approved protocols for drug-abortions -- although the state has exemptions for women whose life is endangered, who have severe health problems or for whom surgical abortion would not be appropriate. State courts in Oklahoma and North Dakota have previously blocked similar rules, while a federal court has refused to temporarily suspend Arizona's even stricter measures.