Health & Science

National Groups Submit Their Positions On Texas Abortion Law To US Supreme Court

Forty-five “friend of the court” legal briefs ask the Justices to strike down the 2013 Texas law regulating abortion clinics. Defenders of the law have a few more weeks to file their briefs.

A major Texas law governing abortion clinics will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court on March 2.

The Texas law requires clinics that offer abortions to become ambulatory surgery centers, and the doctors who work there to affiliate with a nearby hospital. Supporters of these rules have claimed they will make clinics safer.

Wendy Davis disagrees. In 2013, as a Democratic state senator, Davis filibustered for 11 hours, trying to stop the law.

"I firmly believe this law makes women less safe in the state of Texas," Davis said. "If it is upheld, it will be replicated in states across this country, and create a condition where women's safety throughout the United States is threatened."

Since the law passed, more than 20 clinics have closed in Texas. Hundreds of thousands of women in west Texas and in the Rio Grande Valley now live hundreds of miles from the nearest clinic.

"I fear that through this law, we threaten to become a country where our constitutional rights are dependent upon our geography, and the amount of money we have in our checking account," Davis said.

If the Court upholds the law, Texas could eventually be left with fewer than ten clinics, all located in the big cities.

Many women might not be able to get the procedure, or will get it later in pregnancy, when it becomes more complicated, explained Dr. Hal Lawrence III, CEO of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AGOG).

"Women who need an abortion, no matter what the reason, should not be forced overcome barriers imposed on them by elected officials who lack medical training," Lawrence said.

"Making it harder for them to get needed care is not medically sound, and is just plain cruel," he added.

ACOG has submitted a "friend of the court" brief urging the Justices to strike down the Texas law. Forty-four other groups also filed briefs opposing the law. (Complete list)

The filers include medical and nursing groups; historians and economists; black and Latina women's groups; and pastors, ministers, and rabbis.

Wendy Davis, along with three politicians from other states, filed a brief explaining why they had had abortions. One Ohio lawmaker said she had been raped while in the Air Force. Davis terminated a pregnancy because the fetus had a severe brain abnormality.

"We joined in the brief to help the court understand the very real human stories behind abortion in this country," Davis said.

The fight reached the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans last year.

That court upheld the law in June. But the U.S. Supreme Court quickly intervened, putting the major provisions of the law on hold.

The other side in the lawsuit is the state of Texas. Many groups are expected to file briefs in support of the state law, including several anti-abortion groups, like Texas Right to Life.

Emily Horne, a spokeswoman with Texas Right to Life, is not glad that the plaintiffs have sought to overturn the Fifth Circuit. But it's been decades since the Supreme Court has taken a major abortion case, and the decision could bring some much-needed guidance to both sides, she said.

"It really benefits everyone to know what laws are going to be held up as constitutional," Horne said.

The Texas case is a great opportunity for the Supreme Court to finally explain what it means by "undue burden," Horne explained. That's a legal term that refers to an important 1992 case in abortion jurisprudence.

"In Planned Parenthood versus Casey, they said states may restrict abortion as long as it does not impose an ‘undue burden' on the woman," Horne said. "Which sounds great, until you actually start trying to write legislation, and it's not clear what that means."

Groups like Horne's, and the Texas attorney general, have until early February to file their own briefs in defense of the law.

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