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Plaintiffs Hope Judge Rules Parts of Texas Abortion Law Unconstitutional

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT
L-R: Amy Hagstrom Miller of Whole Woman's Health, Janet Crepps of The Center for Reproductive Rights and Sarah Wheat of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas speak to reporters after day one of the abortion lawsuit hearing on Oct. 21, 2013.

A lawsuit attempting to block parts of a new restrictive abortion law is expected to wrap up today. Plaintiffs hope the judge will find certain provisions of the law unconstitutional. 

Plaintiffs -- including Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, Whole Woman's Health and the Center for Reproductive Rights -- are challenging two key provisions of the abortion law, arguing each creates an undue burden on women seeking an abortion, which makes each unconstitutional.

One requires the physician to give two rounds of abortion-inducing medication to the patient in person. The second requires physicians to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they perform the abortion.

Janet Crepps is senior counsel with the Center for Reproductive Rights. She said that second provision clearly restricts access.

"The state is throwing up a lot of smoke but in the end the numbers are clear. If you don’t have privileges, you don’t do abortions," Crepps said. "Here’s the number of clinics that won’t be able to provide abortions, and what that means is a third of the women in Texas won’t be able to get abortions."

In recent years, several states have passed admitting privileges laws. But courts have temporarily blocked the law in Mississippi, Alabama, Wisconsin and North Dakota while trials continue. The Texas case could be the first to receive a verdict. 

The Texas Attorney General’s Office laid out its case Monday. Lawyers said plaintiffs lack proof the new law would deny access to abortions for 22,000 women a year. Completely separate from the case, state lawyers and conservative supporters of the law say they're also fighting for the rights of unborn children. 

"Twenty weeks of development in the mother’s womb, that’s a long time," Mineola Republican State Rep. Bryan Hughes. So the state’s position is going to be that at five months, that’s a little baby, a human life worthy of protection and for those abortions that do take place earlier in the pregnancy, we want safety for the women."

Crepps said safety has nothing to do with the law.

"I think that we have put on evidence showing that these restrictions are not necessary, they are not gonna help women, they’re gonna harm women and they’re gonna make abortion much, much harder to get in Texas," she said.

Some abortion clinics have already closed in Texas because of the new law. Amy Hagstrom Miller owns Whole Women’s Health. Today she's expected to testify that she'll close three of her clinics next week if the law goes into effect because of the admitting privileges provision.

"What we’re trying to do is get the people of Texas to understand what happens and to participate in electing people and participate in this kind of thing," she said, about the plaintiffs' long-term goals.

Depending on how U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel rules, either side can appeal in the 5th Circuit, even up to the Supreme Court.

He says he’ll write his opinion by the morning of Oct. 28. That’s the day before most of the law’s provisions go into effect, including the ban on abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. 

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