AUSTIN -- A federal lawsuit filed Thursday by abortion providers and other reproductive health groups challenges decades of laws in Texas that they argue make it harder for patients to obtain legal abortions.
Whole Woman's Health Alliance is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, joining Fund Texas Choice, Lilith Fund, North Texas Equal Access Fund, The Afiya Center, West Fund and Dr. Bhavik Kumar. They're challenging five categories of what they call "medically-unnecessary" abortion restrictions: targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP), parental involvement laws, mandatory disclosure and waiting period laws, laws that deny patients the benefits of scientific progress and criminal penalties for health care providers who offer abortion services.
"As things stand now, patients have to jump through so many hoops in order to access constitutionally protected medical care," Stephanie Toti from The Lawyering Project, who is serving as lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said. "In some cases, these laws make it impossible for people to access care. In others, people are able to overcome the restrictions, but they have to go through tremendous difficulties, personal sacrifice in order to travel the distances and incur all the extra costs."
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that states may allow reasonable abortion regulations as long as it doesn't impose an undue burden on abortion access. Toti says in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, the court ruled that Texas couldn't restrict abortion in a way that creates an undue burden for women and this new lawsuit wanted to use that as precedent.
"Our goal is to strike down these laws from the books and return Texas to a regime of reasonable regulation of abortion care," Toti said.
The lawsuit also states the University of Texas System applied the limitations on abortion funding set forth in the General Appropriations Act from the 85th Legislative Session in an unconstitutional manner. Toti explained how a social work student from one of the universities needed a field placement to complete a degree program. Once the student secured an internship with the Lilith Fund, the University of Texas System wouldn't provide credit, citing how state funding didn't allow it. However, the Lilith Fund is not an abortion provider.
"The University's interpretation of the limitation on abortion funding penalizes the Lilith Fund and other Plaintiffs for their speech about abortion," the lawsuit states.
"We just received a copy of the lawsuit today," Karen Adler, director of media relations for The University of Texas System, said. "We are in the process of reviewing it and have no comment at this time."
Marc Rylander, director of communications for the Texas Attorney General's Office, issued a statement saying abortion providers have complied with the laws challenged in the case for years and that the
U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that states have an interest in safeguarding women's health.
"These are common-sense measures necessary to protect Texas women from unhygienic, unqualified clinics that put women's lives and reproductive health at risk," he said. "It is ridiculous that these activists are so dedicated to their radical pro-abortion agenda that they would sacrifice the health or lives of Texas women to further it."
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