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Abortion Rights Groups Sue Texas Over Procedure Ban

Bob Daemmrich/The Texas Tribune
An exam room at ChoiceWorks, formerly Whole Woman's Health Clinic, on June 27, 2016, the day the U.S. Supreme Court struck down portions of HB 2 restricting women's access to abortions in Texas.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood announced on Thursday they're suing over a provision in Texas' Senate Bill 8, which outlaws dilation and evacuation abortions.

Texas is heading to court over a state law going into effect in September banning the most common second-trimester abortion procedure. The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood announced on Thursday they're suing over a provision in Texas' Senate Bill 8 bill that outlaws dilation and evacuation abortions. In that procedure, a doctor uses surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue. SB 8 only allows the procedure to be done if the fetus is deceased.

Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a news release that Texas legislators "have once again compromised the health and safety of the women they were elected to represent" to appease abortion opponents.

“The law we challenged today in Texas is part of a nationwide scheme to undermine these constitutional rights and ban abortion one restriction at a time," Northrup said. "We are prepared to fight back using the power of the law wherever politicians compromise a woman’s ability to receive the care she needs.”

Medical professionals deem the method the safest way to perform an abortion on a pregnant woman, and reproductive rights groups have said this change would subject women to an unnecessary medical procedure. Abortion opponents call the procedure “dismemberment” abortions and argue it’s inhumane.

Provisions similar to SB 8 have been halted in Louisiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and Alabama, according to the center's news release.

The lawsuit is the third time in less than a year Texas has had to defend its abortion policies in federal court. In January, a federal judge halted Texas’s proposed rule requiring health providers to bury or cremate fetuses, citing its vagueness and potential to harm patients. In February, that same federal judge ruled the state could not boot Planned Parenthood affiliates from Medicaid, the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled. The state vied to remove Planned Parenthood from Medicaid after a series of heavily edited videos released in 2015 appeared to show Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast employees admitting to selling aborted fetal tissue for medical research. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is appealing both rulings.

SB 8 is also a sore point for reproductive rights advocates for its other provisions. That includes banning hospitals and clinics from donating aborted fetal tissue to medical researchers, outlawing "partial-birth abortions," which are already illegal under federal law, and forcing health care facilities to bury or cremate any fetal remains, regardless if they’re from abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth.

Abortion opponents are still smarting from the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last summer over the Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt case. In June 2016, the high court voted 5-3 that Texas could not require abortion facilities to have minimum room sizes, pipelines for anesthesia or doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility.

Just a year after the ruling, abortion restriction challenges in courts in Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin have been blocked or repealed, with judges citing the Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt ruling.

But the Supreme Court ruling has had little influence on Texas legislators' efforts to pass anti-abortion bills. Gov. Greg Abbott has put abortion bills on the docket for the the 30-day special session that started July 18. That includes bills to stop local governments from giving funding to abortion providers and their affiliates; prohibiting health insurance companies from paying from abortions unless they are medically necessary ; and requiring health care facilities to release more detailed data on abortion complications.

The Texas Tribune provided this story.

Marissa Evans reports on health and human service policy issues for the Tribune and has been in Austin since October 2016. Before the Tribune she reported for CQ Roll Call in D.C. where she covered state legislatures and health care issues. Her reporting has appeared in Civil Eats, NBC BLK, Cosmo for Latinas, Kaiser Health News, The Seattle Times, The Washington Post, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Star Tribune and Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. She is a 2013 alumna of Marquette University in Milwaukee. When not reporting, she is teaching herself how to code, re-perfecting her chocolate chip cookie recipe, searching for food spots that rival her mother’s cooking, exploring museums, catching up on books and watching documentaries.