In the complaint filed in Austin federal court, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance and other groups are challenging five categories of Texas abortion laws that they argue are unduly burdensome to those seeking or providing abortions, including laws they claim restrict and shame abortion patients by imposing mandatory waiting periods and forced ultrasound examinations.
The 43-page lawsuit also challenges Texas laws that target regulation of abortions providers by subjecting them to more burdensome requirements than other healthcare providers — known as TRAP laws — and laws that limit advancements in the use of medication abortion or prohibit the use of telemedicine in abortion care.
The groups are also asking the court to strike down numerous laws relating to required parental involvement in abortion procedures, and statutes that impose additional criminal liability on abortion providers.
The plaintiffs, represented by attorneys from the Lawyering Project – a New York-based legal advocacy group that focuses on improving access to reproductive healthcare – say that laws regulating abortion have “proliferated” over time, replacing “reasonable” restrictions with laws that are both unconstitutional and have no medical benefit.
In a June 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that restrictions on legal abortion cannot unduly burden a woman without providing a legitimate medical benefit.
“Pursuing an incremental strategy designed to chip away at abortion access, the state has layered restrictions on top of restrictions, steadily increasing the burdens faced by people seeking to end their pregnancies,” Thursday’s lawsuit states. “Plaintiffs ask the court to strike down Texas’ unduly burdensome abortion laws, returning the state to a regime of reasonable and medically appropriate abortion regulation.”
Most of the plaintiffs in the case are nonprofit organizations that assist women seeking abortions. These groups provide both information and direct financial assistance to help pay for abortion procedures and associated travel costs.
Nan Kirkpatrick, executive director of plaintiff Texas Equal Access Fund, said in a statement Thursday that the laws being challenged in the suit “weave a huge barrier to abortion access for thousands of people in Texas.” She said those who have a low income, live in rural areas or are people of color are especially affected by these laws.
“I have heard from TEA Fund callers seeking abortion who were emotionally scarred by the state-mandated lies that abortion providers are legally required to tell,” Kirkpatrick said. “I have spoken to people in Amarillo who had to drive a woman four hours one way to her abortion appointment in Albuquerque because TRAP laws shuttered all panhandle providers.”
Texas’ parental involvement law requires that a parent sign a medical consent form in order for a minor to get an abortion. However, as the lawsuit points out, many minors are raised by grandparents or other family members, because their parents are no longer alive or otherwise not a part of their lives. Other minors simply do not want their parents to find out they are seeking an abortion.
Without parental consent, a minor’s only option is judicial bypass. They must file an application for judicial bypass in their home counties if there are more than 10,000 residents and are only allowed to appear in person to plead their case.
In 2015, according to the lawsuit, Texas passed amendments making it more difficult for minors to obtain judicial bypass. Before the amendments, if a court failed to rule on a judicial bypass application within two business days, the application was automatically granted.
Now, if the court fails to rule on the application within five business days, it is automatically denied.
Jane’s Due Process, a group that is not a party to the case but helps minors navigate the judicial bypass process if they cannot or do not want to get parental consent for an abortion, applauded the lawsuit in a press release Thursday for challenging the hurdles its clients face when going through the judicial bypass process and obtaining abortion care.
One of the group’s 16-year-old clients, who is currently going through the bypass process, said in the press release that the process is “ridiculous and cruel.”
“As a 17-year-old, I can’t understand why I can have a child without parental consent, but cannot have an abortion,” the client said. “When I learned I was pregnant, I was sure that my parents could not know. Having to explain myself to someone else who apparently had been given the right to decide what was best for me at the time was absurd.”
Marc Rylander, spokesman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, said in a statement Friday that the laws being challenged “are common-sense measures necessary to protect Texas women from unhygienic, unqualified clinics that put women’s lives and reproductive health at risk.”
“It is ridiculous that these activists are so dedicated to their radical pro-abortion agenda that they would sacrifice the health or lives of Texas women to further it,” he said.
In addition to Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, the plaintiffs in the case include Afiya Center, Fund Texas Choice, Lilith Fund, the Texas Equal Access Fund, West Fund, and Dr. Bhavik Kumar.
They are represented by Austin-based attorney Patrick O’Connell as well as the Lawyering Project attorneys.