As you may know, we spent the past two-and-a-half days in federal court fighting two provisions of House Bill 2.
Before we go into talking about how the trial went, here’s some information on the two specific provisions that we are helping sue the state over:
A provision to require physicians providing abortion services to obtain hospital admitting privileges.
- Arguably the most pressing of the HB 2 restrictions is its requiring of any physician providing abortion services to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. The provision, which isn’t required of any other medical provider, could cause at least one-third of the state’s licensed health centers providing safe, legal abortions to close in approximately a month from now. Cities like Lubbock, Fort Worth, Waco, McAllen, Harlingen, and Killeen would have access eliminated due to 13 of the 36 clinics in Texas having to close their doors. This has nothing to do with the training, expertise, or standards of the physicians involved but has everything to do with the difficulty of getting admitting privileges from a hospital due to moral or political objections to abortion.
A provision that would change the dosage and administering of a medication abortion.
- The lawsuit will specifically request an injunction on HB 2′s requirements that doctors now prescribe abortion-inducing drugs according to an outdated Food and Drug Administration label. Doctors have not followed this protocol for 13 years as research has since found that current ways in which the drug is administered are safer, more effective, and use less of the medication when a woman chooses to use the pill method to end a pregnancy. The old FDA label requires both three times the dosage of the current prescription and would also allow the drug to be administered not at a place where she chooses to miscarry, but only in a licensed abortion facility. Under the new requirements, a woman would have to drive back-and-forth to the clinic for each pill, increasing the chances that she would miscarry while commuting to and from one of her appointments.
Keep in mind that there are two other provisions for HB2 that are not included in this lawsuit: the 20 week ban on abortion that goes into effect this Tuesday and the requirement that we meet the standards of an Ambulatory Surgical Center at all of our clinics, which goes into effect September of 2014. Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit we are involved in, these two provisions will happen no matter what. What we want from the trial is an indefinite injunction against the two provisions, meaning that the judge would rule both of them unconstitutional and stop them from becoming law. He may rule both provisions unconstitutional, or he may rule that only the medication abortion provision or only the hospital admitting privileges provision are unconstitutional. Either way, we will have an answer by noon on Monday, October 28th. If the judge doesn’t issue an injunction at all, we will have to comply with these provisions beginning Tuesday, October 29th. All parties expect this lawsuit to make it to the Federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, and possibly the Supreme Court in Washington DC. If the judge rules in our favor, the state will appeal it to the 5th circuit; if the judge rules in the state’s favor, then we will appeal it to the 5th circuit.
During the trial this week, we were lucky enough to be the sole voice online for both Whole Woman’s Health and the Center for Reproductive Rights. On our Twitter page, we gave a play-by-play of the proceedings, giving a good snapshot of what happened in a somewhat closed courtroom that didn’t allow any use of cell phones or Internet connections. Two of the live witnesses were WWH CEO and Founder Amy Hagstrom Miller and Andrea Ferrigno, our Corporate Vice President. The other three witnesses were Dr. Fine of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Dr. Carnell from Baylor University Hospital, and Dr. Joe Potter, a demographer and professor from TxPEP Research at UT Austin. Dr. Potter provided the most statistical information on what will happen to reproductive healthcare in Texas should House Bill 2 become law, and as a result was the target of most of the attacks form the state’s lawyers during the cross examination of witnesses.
The testimony during the trial made it a proud day for Whole Woman’s Health. Whether it was the plaintiff side (our side) or the defendant’s side (the state of Texas), WWH was represented well with Amy and Andrea’s knowledge on our company, our policies, and our compassionate care for our patients. No matter what the state’s lawyers threw at them, and they threw A LOT at them, both of them stood their ground and gave the proper information to the court to show that this law is completely unconstitutional. Some of the best parts were here, here and here. Amy showed true composure when the state lawyer that was questioning her suggested that we raise our prices as well as offer our physicians more pay to fix all of our problems. After suggesting this, Amy said, ”I considered raising my prices but I don’t think that’s ethical or of service to women. Money has never been an obstacle to find physicians full-time; it’s always been because of the harassment they might receive from the anti-choice movement.” The lawyer also tried to allege that Senator Wendy Davis was the person whose Fort Worth district is where WWH of Fort Worth is located, but Amy corrected him and explained that WWH of Fort Worth is actually in the district of Senator Jane Nelsen, an anti-choice legislator.
In a moment that summed up the particularly emotional and personal consequences of House Bill 2 should it go into effect this Tuesday, Andrea showed how much she truly cares about our patients when she was asked about how this law will affect our McAllen clinic: “I’m very concerned in general, but the tears come because of McAllen. I’m just really concerned about what women are going to do when they can’t access safe services.” Andrea also told the court that she has been looking for hospital admitting privileges for our physicians since June in anticipation that House Bill 2 would be passed. Even though she has given herself more time than House Bill 2 said we would need in order to obtain privileges, it’s absolutely not enough.
So, what’s next? Judge Yeakel admitted at the end of the proceedings that he understands Tuesday, October 29th is not far away. We are prepared for either outcome of this trial, and you will be the first to know what our next plan is.
Continue the fight.