AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — An advocacy group filed another federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging a new provision of Texas' tough restrictions on abortion, less than a week after an appeals court reversed a previous suit and found that the stricter limits don't impose an undue burden on women's health.
The Center for Reproductive Rights' suit is the first to challenge part of a new state law that doesn't take effect until Sept. 1, but mandates that all abortions, including those induced via medication, take place in an ambulatory surgical center.
The New York-based center says just six abortion clinics in Texas currently meet those standards and that upgrades to do so are so costly that only about three would be able to meet them by the fall, leaving fewer than 10 clinics in a state with 13 million women. For now, 24 Texas clinics provide abortions.
Passed last summer, the omnibus abortion law already requires abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the clinic where they perform the procedure, that they follow strict instructions for pill-induced medical abortions and perform abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy only if the health of the mother is in danger or the fetus isn't viable.
As with the previous suit, this one also challenges the admitting privileges provision, this time on behalf of Whole Woman's Health in McAllen and Reproductive Health Services in El Paso, which the Center for Reproductive Rights says may close despite being "among the last, if not the only, providers offering abortion care in their communities."
Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman's Health which operates four Texas health facilities, said building a 5,000 square-foot clinic to meet the surgical center standards could cost more than $2 million.
Critics say the law simply is an effort to over-regulate abortion out of existence in Texas, though supporters maintain that it is about protecting women's safety.
"These requirements were advanced by politicians, not doctors, and solely based on ideology rather than sound medical practice," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The law had thrown the Republican-controlled state Legislature into chaos before it was overwhelmingly approved in July. It was temporarily delayed by a 12-plus hour filibuster by Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, who is now running for governor, and amid massive protests on both sides of the issue at the state Capitol.
It is now being defended in court by the office of Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is favored to beat Davis in the gubernatorial race.
"The attorney general's office will defend the law in this case, just as we do in all cases where state laws are challenged in court," said Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for Abbott's office.
In response to an original suit brought by Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin ruled against enforcement of the admitting privileges rule and requirements for the use of only federally approved protocols for drug-abortions.
The law, though, was allowed to remain in place during an appeal to the New Orleans-based U.S. 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where a panel of judges upheld it on March 27, ruling in part that the legal challenge came before opponents of the law had time to collect evidence it was affecting women's health.
Hagstrom Miller said that in 2012, there were 44 clinics licensed to provide abortions in Texas but that after the law passed that number dropped to 34 as providers "saw the writing on the wall." Since the law actually took effect, she said, 10 more have closed, leaving just 24 licensed clinics statewide.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission agrees that 24 clinics remain open but says the number that closed after the law is actually 8 — with the discrepancy coming since some clinics have stopped providing abortions while remaining open.