Texas ban on abortion procedure heads to trial

Published on Thursday, 2 November 2017 09:19 - Written by Shannon Najmabadi, The Texas Tribune

Texas abortion providers are set to be in to court Thursday to try to block part of a new state law restricting the most common second-trimester abortion procedure.  

Arguments in Whole Woman’s Health, et al. v. Ken Paxton, et al. will begin at 9 a.m. in the Austin courtroom of U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel. The trial is expected to last several days. 

At issue is part of Senate Bill 8, a state law passed earlier this year, that bans dilation and evacuation abortions - deemed the safest way to terminate a second-trimester abortion by medical professionals - unless the fetus is deceased. The lawsuit was filed in July by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood on behalf of several women’s health providers in the state. 

During the dilation and evacuation procedure, doctors use surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue – a process proponents of the law have called inhumane and described as “dismemberment abortion.” Providers say an effective ban on the procedure would subject women to medically unnecessary and untested methods. Doctors would face criminal charges for violating the ban; the only exception would be in cases of medical emergency. 

The ban had an effective date of Sept. 1, but Yeakel blocked its implementation with a temporary restraining order that remains in effect. 

SB 8 also prohibits hospitals and clinics from donating aborted fetal tissue to medical researchers and requires health care facilities to bury or cremate fetal remains from abortions, miscarriages and stillbirths. 

Reproductive rights groups point to the law's provisions as part of an ongoing strategy to restrict abortion access in the state. 

After the SB 8 lawsuit was filed in July, Texas passed three other abortion-related measures during the special legislative session this summer that will increase reporting requirements for abortion complications and require women to buy a supplemental insurance plan if they want coverage for an abortion - called a “rape insurance” policy by opponents. 

The lawsuit over the dilation and evacuation ban is just one of several recent actions abortion rights advocates have taken against Texas. 

In June 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of a Texas law that required abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers and required doctors performing the procedure to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. 

Days after the high court’s decision, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission quietly proposed new rules requiring abortion providers to cremate or bury fetal remains. 

And the state tried to kick Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid after outcry over heavily edited videos released in 2015 by an anti-abortion group that appeared to show Planned Parenthood officials in Houston and across the nation discussing how their providers obtain fetal tissue for medical research. Though the videos have been widely debunked, abortion opponents claim they are evidence of Planned Parenthood employees admitting to selling fetal tissue. 

A federal judge blocked the fetal remains rule in January of this year, and in February ruled Texas can't kick clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood out of the state’s Medicaid program. The state is appealing both rulings. 

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.  

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/11/02/arguments-begin-trial-over-texas-ban-common-abortion-procedure/. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans - and engages with them - about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.