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Closing Arguments Made In HB2 Abortion Case
Updated: Wednesday, August 13 2014, 09:31 PM CDT
Closing arguments were made today in the legal showdown over Texas' tough new abortion restrictions. It's now a waiting game as U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel weighs arguments from both sides. He will decide whether it is constitutional to require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.
Whole Woman's Health of Austin on N I-35 closed two weeks ago because it couldn't meet the requirements of HB 2. A spokesperson said among other things, it didn't have large enough operating rooms or wide enough hallways. It's a similar story across the state which is why abortion providers filed the lawsuit against the state.
Wednesday morning, a group of women protested HB 2 outside the federal courthouse. They chanted "women need abortion on demand" while holding bloody clothes hangers to symbolize what happened when abortions were illegal.
Inside the courtroom, abortion providers fought against the law they argue will put all but seven clinics in metro areas of Texas out of business. "The purpose of these requirements isn't to enhance patient health and safety, it's simply to make abortion services in Texas impossible to obtain," said Stephanie Toti with the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Toti delivered closing arguments on why the law creates a substantial obstacle for women seeking the medical procedure who do not live in metro areas. "There is no reason to force women to travel 150 miles or more to obtain medical care that's been safely provided in their own communities for decades," said Toti.
Judge Yeakel responded with a question to the court, "would we stand for that for any other medical procedure, a day of travel for a sprained ankle or appendectomy?"
"It struck me as rather callous that the judge would equate the very serious procedure of surgical abortion with a sprained ankle," said Joe Pojman, the Executive Director for the Texas Alliance for Life.
Pojman went on to say, "I was rather surprised that the judge did voice his dissatisfaction with the idea that 150 miles, which is what the 5th Circuit already upheld as constitutional, that he had a personal problem with that."
Jonathan Mitchell, solicitor general for Attorney General Greg Abbott, said only nine to 10 percent of reproductive-age women in Texas will live more than 150 miles from a surgical center that can perform abortions.
Mitchell also argued driving distance alone does not constitute a substantial obstacle. Mitchell suggested a woman in El Paso could avoid a 500 mile drive to San Antonio and instead go to New Mexico for an abortion.
HB 2 is set to become law Sept. 1 in Texas. Attorneys for the abortion providers expect Judge Yeakel's decision by then, but they know it won't be the end of the abortion battle.
"We're going to be headed to the 5th Circuit of Appeals in New Orleans one way or the other," said Jan Soifer of O'Connell & Soifer.