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Texas Abortion Law Trial Almost Over, But Both Sides Ready For Step Two

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT
A federal trial against Texas’ newest abortion law, HB2, wraps up on Aug. 7, 2014.";

Update (5:07 p.m.): U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel has scheduled closing arguments in a federal trial against the state's newest abortion law for next Wednesday, Aug. 13, in the morning, after witness testimony concluded today.

The plaintiffs hope Judge Yeakel will strike down a provision that requires abortions only take place at ambulatory surgical centers. And that the provision requiring doctors to receive admitting privileges at  hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic where they perform the procedure will be struck down for physicians in El Paso and McAllen.
Yesterday, witnesses called by the state questioned the safety of abortions not performed in surgical centers, but today, the attorneys for the abortion providers are questioning just how much disciplinary action the state has taken against doctors in years prior to House Bill 2’s passage.

Judge Yeakel’s expected to rule before Sept. 1, when the ambulatory surgical center provision goes into effect.


Original story: A federal trial at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas against the state’s newest abortion law wraps up today.

This lawsuit seeks to block two requirements: One, that abortion physicians must receive admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic where they perform the procedure, but specifically physicians who work at a Whole Woman's Health clinic in McAllen and Reproductive Services in El Paso. Two, that starting Sept. 1, providers can only offer abortions in ambulatory surgical centers.

Stephanie Toti, the lead counsel in the case for the plaintiffs and a senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, says she's confident that testimony from their witnesses will lead U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakelto rule in their favor.

"Ranging from the high cost of compliance -- we heard testimony that it would be in excess of $3 million to construct a new ambulatory surgery center, to all the medical testimony that there just isn’t any medical benefit to abortion patients from having the procedure done in a surgery center," she said.

This week, a federal judge struck down the admitting privileges requirement in a similar Alabama law. No matter how the judge here rules, either side is expected to appeal to a federal appellate court.

Last time Texas abortion providers challenged the admitting privileges provision, the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in the state’s favor [click here for a PDF of the decision]. The panel of judges agreed that the state has a right to regulate the medical profession and the credentialing of physicians, and a deputy attorney general argued this week that the appeals court also determined driving from the Rio Grande Valley to San Antonio, or from El Paso to New Mexico, is also not an undue burden, making the law constitutional. 

Toti with the Center for Reproductive Rights, however, says the judges might reconsider.

"I have full confidence in federal courts and I’m very hopeful that the judges will weight the issues carefully and come to the right conclusion," she says.

Judge Yeakel is expected to rule before the surgical center provision goes into effect next month.

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