Final Arguments Heard in Federal Court Challenge to Texas Abortion Law
Austin (CN) - It was a Texas showdown inside a federal courthouse during closing arguments Wednesday in the trial challenging the state's new rules on abortions.
Opponents of the controversial Texas state statute on abortions argue that it is in fact designed to eliminate them by putting impossible conditions on abortion providers. The defenders of the law answer that the law is nor more than a health safety regulation and that opponents cannot prove it is unduly burdensome.
Stephanie Toti, a lawyer with the Center for Reproductive Rights, represents nine plaintiffs, including an abortion provider that has ceased operations in South and West Texas ahead of the September 1 enactment of key provisions of the Texas law,.
During closing arguments in U.S. District Court in Austin on Wednesday, he asked Judge Lee Yeakel to block some parts of the law, including the provision requiring a physician to have admitting privileges at a hospital located no further than 30 miles from the location where the abortion is performed.
Under the provision, women in McAllen and El Paso would have to travel at least 150 miles to the nearest abortion clinic in the state.
Toti began her closing arguments by describing the elements regulating an abortion law while Judge Yeakel peppered her with questions. She said the law must avoid substantial obstacles and avoid subjecting women to undue health issues.
"There was no public health crisis when HR 2 was enacted," Toti told Yeakel. "But the law will create a public health catastrophe by limiting women's access to abortions."
But Yeakel asked Toti to describe what exactly she considered an undue burden.
Toti said by September 1 just seven abortion facilities clustered in only four metropolitan areas will be operational in the state, adding that if 150 miles is too much travel for some women, then it constitutes an undue burden.
She reminded the court that it must look only in Texas when applying the requirements, not to neighboring states like New Mexico.
She called the requirement "a multi-million dollar tax on abortion procedures."
"It affords patients absolutely no medical benefit. There's no purpose in enacting a requirement like this other than to eliminate safe abortions in the state of Texas."
Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell said the plaintiffs simply have not met their burden of proof.
"The plaintiffs are piling on legal requirements over legal requirements that have nothing to do with the undue burden test," Mitchell told the judge.
He said 83 percent of Texas woman will still live within 150 miles of an operational facility, adding the law doesn't impose a substantial obstacle.
"They haven't proven a single woman has been burdened by the admitting privileges law. All we have at the end of the day are hearsay anecdotes."
Mitchell argued women in East Texas will not be burden, but will in fact, have two choices to seek an abortion by crossing into New Mexico.
"Crossing the state border is just a part of daily life in El Paso."
He said the Rio Grande Valley has been without an abortion provider for nine months but the plaintiffs still have no produced a single witness to testify that the admitting privileges requirement has an undue burden.
He said the law needs to take effect to know what outcome it will have on women.
Outside the federal courthouse, about a dozen women stood silently holding up hangers drenched in red paint and pictures of women who died from illegal abortions.
Local activist Mary Lou Greenberg said the demonstration is about women's lives that are at stake.
"Woman are dying now but it will be even more disastrous if HB 2 is enacted," Greenberg said.
Yeakel said he will issue a written opinion promptly.