Texas abortion providers challenge restrictive state laws in new lawsuit


Abortion providers in Texas filed a sweeping lawsuit against the state Thursday, targeting dozens of state laws that restrict access to abortion.

The lawsuit, filed by Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, Fund Texas Choice, the Lilith Fund and other organizations against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, comes two years after the U.S. Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. That ruling struck down two other Texas abortion laws, ruling that they imposed an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion.

Following their 2016 Supreme Court win, Whole Woman’s Health and the other providers are now seeking to have the ruling applied to other Texas laws, some of which are decades old.

“We were able to leverage that new standard and use it to take a look historically at all of the laws that have been on the books for some time that cannot stand now,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, told Politico. “It’s never been done before because we never had a win before like the one we had two years ago.”

The lawsuit specifically targets the state’s network of “unique, onerous and medically unnecessary” provisions that hinder both abortion providers and patients from seeking and providing care. Among the laws being challenged in the new lawsuit are those that single out abortion providers with burdensome regulations; mandatory disclosure and waiting period laws; parental involvement laws for minors seeking abortions; restrictions on medication abortions; laws subjecting abortion providers to criminal liability; and limitations on abortion funding. The lawsuit does not challenge Texas’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“I have heard from TEA Fund callers seeking abortion who were emotionally scarred by the state-mandated lies that abortion providers are legally required to tell,” Nan Little Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, said in a statement. “I have spoken to people in Amarillo who had to drive a woman four hours one way to her abortion appointment in Albuquerque because [targeted regulation of abortion providers] laws shuttered all Panhandle providers.”

“The group of laws being challenged may seem on the surface to be a hodgepodge of random requirements, but together they weave a huge barrier to abortion access for thousands of people in Texas.”

The suit argues that the slate of abortion laws violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by imposing an undue burden on access to abortion. The laws have a disproportionate impact on marginalized populations, including women of color, immigrants and low-income Americans, who the lawsuit noted make up three-quarters of abortion patients.

“The Constitution prohibits states from imposing any burden on people seeking abortion care that is not justified by a proportional benefit, regardless of whether the burden ultimately prevents them from ending their pregnancies,” the lawsuit states. “States cannot heap burdens on those seeking abortion care for no valid reason — and the desire to punish or stigmatize people for their reproductive choices is not a valid reason under the Constitution.”

Paxton’s office responded to the new lawsuit with a statement noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has “affirmed multiple times that the state has an interest in safeguarding women’s health and protecting unborn life.”

“Abortion providers have been complying with the laws being challenged in this case for years,” Marc Rylander, director of communications at the office of the attorney general, said in a statement quoted by the Texas Tribune. “They are common-sense measures necessary to protect Texas women from unhygienic, unqualified clinics that put women’s lives and reproductive health at risk. It is ridiculous that these activists are so dedicated to their radical pro-abortion agenda that they would sacrifice the health or lives of Texas women to further it.”

According to the Houston Chronicle, the lawsuit marks the first time that abortion providers have targeted dozens of abortion laws with a single lawsuit, though the Texas challenge comes amid a nationwide push by abortion advocates to fight back against restrictive laws.

Abortion policies in Kentucky and Iowa have been temporarily blocked pending ongoing litigation, and abortion laws are being challenged in such states as Mississippi and Ohio. Anti-abortion advocates received a win in May when the Supreme Court declined to hear a legal challenge to Arkansas’ abortion law restricting medication abortions, allowing the law to go into effect.

Barbara Rodriguez/AP

At the national level, Planned Parenthood and other organizations have been fighting back against the Trump administration’s anti-abortion policies and other attacks on women’s health, including a recently announced “gag rule” that targets the federal Title X funding that abortion providers receive. The organization is also taking aim at a funding bill currently making its way through Congress, which would ban multi-state insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act from covering abortion and deny abortion coverage to federal employees.

Americans are closely divided on the subject of abortion. According to a Gallup poll released Monday, Americans who consider themselves to be pro-life or pro-choice each make up 48% of the population. The poll found that half of Americans believe abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, as compared with 29% who want it to be legal under any circumstance and 18% in favor of abortion being completely illegal.