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Texas May Owe Abortion Providers' Lawyers $4.5 Million

Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS
Demonstrators celebrated at the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016, after the court struck down a Texas law imposing strict abortion regulations.

Texas could be on the hook for more than $4.5 million as part of its failed legal battle to defend its 2013 abortion restrictions, which the U.S. Supreme struck down as unconstitutional in June.

The Center for Reproductive Rights late Friday filed its request for that amount in attorney’s fees and other expenses incurred in the lawsuit challenging House Bill 2, which required all Texas facilities performing abortions to meet hospital-like standards and forced doctors at those clinics to have admitting privileges at a hospital less than 30 miles away. In a lawsuit brought by the New York-based organization on behalf of Texas abortion providers, the Supreme Court overturned those provisions on a 5-3 vote.
Because the abortion providers were the prevailing party in the federal lawsuit, the court has allowed the Center for Reproductive Rights and other attorneys who worked on the case to ask to recover costs for the lawsuit. The state is expected to file its response by Nov. 4, and the judge who oversaw the case — U.S. district judge Lee Yeakel — will decide if the abortion providers’ lawyers will be awarded anything.

“Time and again, politicians in Texas have proven to be as reckless with taxpayer dollars as they are with the health and well-being of the people they serve," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement.

The Texas attorney general’s office, which defended the restrictions in court, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Texas’ legal defense of the restrictions has already cost taxpayers $1 million.The state’s legal costs associated with the case, formally known as Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, totaled $768,722. That includes salary, overhead, travel expenses and other expenses incurred by the Texas attorney general's office.

The price tag for a previous lawsuit that targeted the admitting privileges provision — formally known as Planned Parenthood, et al v. Abbott, et al — was $311,355.

The state spent almost three years defending the restrictions that were ultimately overturned. In a majority opinion authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, the high court indicated the two requirements provided "few, if any, health benefits for women," posed a "substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions" and placed an undue burden on the constitutional right to obtain an abortion.

While the ruling was a major victory for Texas abortion providers, they’re still grappling with the trail of shuttered clinics left in wake of House Bill 2. At the time of the ruling, only 19 abortion clinics — of the more than 40 that were open before HB 2 passed — remained open.


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