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Texas Abortion Laws Will Close Clinics, Witness Testifies

Oct. 22 (Bloomberg) -- 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 today on findings from his privately funded study that the new rules would close more than 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 others 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.

He was the third of five witnesses called by Planned Parenthood in the non-jury trial before Yeakel which began yesterday and will end with closing arguments tomorrow.

No Witnesses

Lawyers for the state called no witnesses before resting today, relying upon its papers filed with the court and points raised in cross-examination and upon summation.

The judge has scheduled two hours for closing arguments, telling lawyers for both sides today that he doesn’t want “a lot of rambling” and instructing them to focus on the merits.

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.

Andrea Ferrigno, vice president of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates for-profit abortion clinics in five Texas cities, testified today on the potential impact of the law on two clinics in the Rio Grande Valley. Abortions account for 90 percent of the company’s business, she said.

The company so far has approached 32 hospitals and submitted 15 applications for privileges without success, Ferrigno said. Ferrigno acknowledged under cross examination that none of the applications has been rejected. She said she didn’t know whether they will ultimately be accepted or denied.

20th Week

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 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.”

Doctor’s Testimony

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

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 that 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.

Lead Investigator

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

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.

Potter, under questioning by Scott, said the project was funded by a private foundation that asked that its name not be disclosed unless legally required to do so. Scott said the foundation’s identity was important, because it related to the “credibility of the witness.” Yeakel didn’t require the disclosure, saying the donor was presumably favorable to the plaintiffs.

Final Witness

The final trial witness was Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and chief executive officer of Whole Woman’s Health. She told the court that at least 13 clinics, including Whole Woman’s locations in Fort Worth, San Antonio and McAllen, will be forced to close because of the new law.

“I’ll have no choice,” Hagstrom Miller said, citing the admitting requirements. Another facility, in Austin, will have to curtail services, she said.

The network she founded in 2003 currently has 11 physicians, including some who perform abortions at more than one clinic, Hagstrom Miller said.  

Even before the new measures were passed, she said, shes had trouble hiring doctors because of harassment by anti-abortion groups and hospital policies that prevent physicians from working for abortion clinics.

Some prospective physicians told her that they were afraid of being targeted within communities for working for a clinic, she testified. They also expressed fear for their families.

“It’s been very difficult,” she said.

Before recessing today, Yeakel told the parties he wants to be told tomorrow “where the plaintiffs believe this statute fails under existing precedent and why the state believes plaintiffs are wrong in that regard.”

He gave no indication of when he will rule.

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 Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net

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

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