Texas Abortion Laws Will Close Clinics, Witness Testifies

A New Texas law requiring abortion doctors to have local hospital admitting privileges will probably force more than one-third of the state’s clinics to close, affecting more than 20,000 women, a trial witness said.

Joseph Potter, a University of Texas demographer, testified for Planned Parenthood in federal court in Austin, Texas, in a trial over the group’s challenge to the new law and one barring anyone except a doctor from administering abortion-inducing drugs.

Potter, in a second day on the stand, testified on findings from his privately funded study that the new rules would close more a third of 30 licensed abortion clinics in Texas. Clinics closing probably won’t be replaced by new ones that comply with those rules and new ones signed into law July 18 by Governor Rick Perry, Potter told U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in testimony yesterday.

“My opinion is that is unlikely,” he said of the creation of new clinics. Seventy-six family planning clinics closed after 2011 funding cuts and none reopened, Potter said.

Planned Parenthood last month sued to block the hospital affiliation and drug dispensing requirements set to take effect Oct. 29, arguing they deprive women of constitutional rights.

Texas Solicitor General Jonathan F. Mitchell disputed that yesterday in his opening statements. He said the group had no evidence to support its claims and was wrongly trying to shift the burden of proof to the government.

Law’s Impact

Andrea Ferrigno, vice president of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates for-profit abortion clinics in five Texas cities, wept on the stand today as she discussed the potential impact of the law on two clinics in the Rio Grande Valley.

The company approached 32 hospitals and submitted 15 applications for privileges without success, Ferrigno said. Abortions account for 90 percent of the company’s business, she said.

“I’m just really concerned about what women are going to do when they can’t access state services,” Ferrigno said.

State law also bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy and, as of Sept. 1, 2014, will require clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers. Those provisions weren’t challenged in Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit.

The affiliation rule will force one in three health centers providing abortions to stop, ending services in six cities, Planned Parenthood said in court papers. The requirement may cause more than 22,000 women a year to be denied access to abortions, the group said.

30-Mile Rule

The law says any doctor who performs abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (48 kilometers) of his clinic. The rule is unjustified because fewer than 0.3 percent of abortions nationwide result in hospitalization, according to Planned Parenthood.

Mitchell, the state’s lawyer, disputed the group’s claims yesterday.

“The Supreme Court has recognized that the state’s interest in promoting fetal life is present throughout pregnancy,” Mitchell said. “The Constitution allows the state to protect fetal life in this manner, so long as its regulations do not impose an ‘undue burden’ on abortion patients.”

The state hasn’t called any witnesses yet.

Paul Fine, a Houston doctor who performs abortions, said yesterday that the new rules are unnecessary and will harm women.

Surgery Alternative

Restrictions on drug-induced abortions might deprive many women of an alternative to the surgical procedure, he said. For some women who may be at greater risk of complications than others from that surgery, medicine abortions are a reliably safe alternative, Fine said.

He told the court many Texas hospitals, including those affiliated with religious organizations, will probably refuse to grant privileges to doctors associated with abortion clinics.

Deputy Attorney General John Scott asked Fine in cross-examination if he knew the state had a law barring hospitals and other medical facilities from discriminating against doctors who perform abortions.

Fine said he wasn’t aware of it.

Potter, the University of Texas professor, identified himself as the lead investigator for the school’s Texas Policy Evaluation Project.

He said he helped compile the study upon which Planned Parenthood based its claim that 22,000 women will lose abortion access under the new law.

Potter said he supports abortion rights.

Cross-Examination

During cross-examination by Scott, Potter was unable to answer some questions including the names of at least two Bexar County clinics that would probably close as a result of the new requirements.

Potter said much of the information in the study was gathered by other researchers.

The case is Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Services v. Abbott, 13-cv-00862, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (Austin).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in federal court in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net; David Montgomery in federal court in Austin, Texas, at daveyjoe2005@yahoo.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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