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Federal Trial Over Texas Abortion Regulations Continues in Austin

Veronica Zaragovia/KUT
Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman's Health, stands outside the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin.

A trial over new abortion restrictions in Texas continues in Austin today. Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel heard the first day of arguments for and against two provisions: One, that abortion clinics must become surgical centers by Sept. 1 and two, that abortion physicians in McAllen and El Paso must receive admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic where they perform the procedure.

When the legal challenge to the law, known as House Bill 2, began, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Jan Soifer, argued the provisions will drastically reduce the number of abortion providers in Texas. 
Fewer than 10 facilities that meet the new requirements will be open, and all of them in the state’s major cities.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas says she came to show support for the plaintiffs. She says Texas lawmakers want abortion clinics to close down.

"Lawmakers like [Lt. Gov.] David Dewhurst, [State Sen.] Donna Campbell, [Gov.] Rick Perry -- they’ve made it very clear that this is about shutting down clinics," Busby says. "They think that without shutting down clinics, there won’t be abortion. The reality is there will be abortion, it just won’t be safe and legal."

The Texas attorney general’s office, however, which is defending the law, says plaintiffs will have a hard time proving that the Texas Legislature was motivated by an unconstitutional purpose to pass this law. James Blacklock, a deputy attorney general, argues driving from the Rio Grande Valley to San Antonio is not an undue burden, and neither is driving from El Paso to the nearest clinic in New Mexico.

People who came to show support for the law, likeShawn Carney, say abortion providers can comply with the law -- if they want to.

"The abortion facilities that are closing are choosing to do so," Carney says. "They’re opting to not raise the standards for the women they’re serving. It’s a disappointment but it’s a reality that they’ve decided to do."

San Antonio already has one abortion clinic that meets the new standards. Planned Parenthood is expected to open a surgical center in Dallas by Sept. 1. Testimony in the trial continues today, and the trial’s expected to last most of the week.

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