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Center for Reproductive Rights

Second trimester lawsuit appeal heard at the Fifth Circuit

Elections or no elections, the world keeps spinning.

The federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Monday morning about whether Texas should be able to ban doctors from performing the most common second-trimester abortion procedure, called dilation and evacuation.

In a nearly hourlong hearing, attorneys for Texas and lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood argued in front of a panel of three judges.

At issue was Senate Bill 8, a law signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in 2017 but blocked by a federal judge that would ban abortions in which a doctor uses surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue. The law would only allow the procedure to be done if the fetus is deceased.

[…]

Janet Crepps, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, argued that the state’s proposed law was “invasive, medically unnecessary and poses a dangerous risk” to women. She said injections with potassium chloride using a three-to-four-inch spinal needle puts women at risks for infection and hospitalization.

“Just the idea the state thinks that’s what’s within its power is contrary to the whole idea that women have a right to autonomy, dignity,” Crepps said after the hearing.

The appeals case comes nearly a year after Judge Lee Yeakel said the provision imposed an “undue burden” on women seeking second-trimester abortions in Texas. The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood filed suit last summer on behalf of several women’s health providers in the state. Yeakel issued a temporary restraining order on enforcing the measure in August, a day before the ban’s effective date.

Throughout the hearing the three judges asked questions around how to best interpret a Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that blocked Alabama’s dilation and evacuation ban from going into effect; how the injections work; and who are the women likely to need these services.

Medical professionals deem the dilation and evacuation method the safest way to perform an abortion, and reproductive rights groups have said this ban would subject women to an unnecessary medical procedure.

See here for the previous update. I don’t have any faith in the Fifth Circuit or the Supreme Court interpreting “undue burden” in a meaningful fashion, but I’ll be happy to be surprised. Whatever the outcome of this case, if we don’t have a federal law protecting access to abortion on our near-term goals, we’re doing it wrong.

“Fetal remains” law tossed

Very good.

U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra struck down a Texas law on Wednesday that would have required hospitals and clinics to bury cremate fetal remains, causing another courtroom setback for state leaders and anti-abortion groups.

Under Senate Bill 8, passed in 2017, health care facilities including hospitals and abortion clinics would be required to bury or cremate any fetal remains — whether from abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or treatments for ectopic pregnancy regardless of patients’ personal wishes or beliefs. Legislators passed the bill following a ruling that year by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks that struck down a similar rule implemented by the Texas Department of State Health Services. At the time Sparks said it was vague, caused undue burden on women and had high potential for irreparable harm.

Over the course of a nearly 30-minute hearing at a federal court in Austin on Wednesday, Ezra gave a synopsis of the ruling, calling the case “a very emotional topic.” The requirement would have been challenging for health providers, in part because it would be difficult to find medical waste vendors willing to participate. In addition, Ezra expressed wariness about the state having to reach out to private cemeteries to help with fetal remain disposals.

“The implementation of this law, as I have pointed out, would cause and, if allowed to go into effect, would be a violation of a woman’s right to obtain a legal abortion under the law as it stands today,” Ezra said.

[…]

Multiple doctors and health advocates who testified said women often don’t ask what happens to their fetal tissue, since they assume it’ll be treated like medical waste. Providers also said they have experienced challenges trying to find medical waste vendors willing to work with their clinics. A top reason, they said, is that vendors are unwilling to endure backlash and harassment from anti-abortion advocates.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m terribly amused by the fact that the zealotry of the anti-abortion movement was cited as a reason that this law they supported is illegal. If there’s a Greek goddess of irony, she’s pouring herself a glass of wine right now. Of course the state will appeal, and we know that the Fifth Circuit and soon SCOTUS are places where hope goes to be strangled in a back alley. But until then we have this, so let’s celebrate while we still can. The Observer has more.

“Fetal remains” trial ends

Now we wait for a ruling.

State and reproductive rights attorneys wrapped up a five-day trial in federal court on Friday that will determine whether a Texas law requiring health providers to cremate or bury fetal remains can go into effect.

U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra told attorneys on Friday that he has “not made up my mind on how I’m going to rule on this case” and is awaiting written closing arguments due on Aug. 3.

He’s expected to rule around the end of August.

The law at the center of the case is Senate Bill 8, passed in 2017, which requires the burial or cremation of fetal remains. Legislators passed the bill following a ruling that year by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks that struck down a similar rule implemented by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Sparks said that rule was vague, caused undue burden on women and had high potential for irreparable harm.

Throughout the five-day trial, a wave of patients, health providers, state agency officials, bioethicists, cemetery directors and religious leaders flowed through the witness stand.

Before dismissing attorneys Friday morning, Ezra rattled off a list of questions and concerns he wanted both sides to answer in his closing arguments, including: What authority does Texas have to pass laws around giving dignity to the unborn? What would happen to women’s access to care — for abortions and miscarriages — if health providers did not have a facility to handle fetal remains? And how many facilities — secular or otherwise — have committed to helping with burials and cremation?

Ezra noted that the case is unique because state attorneys waived the argument that SB 8 protects the health or safety of patients and plaintiff’s attorneys waived arguments about costs to patients and providers.

The dynamics involved “makes this case extremely unique in many ways and makes finding precedent all the more difficult because those issues are generally not only present in these kind of abortion-related cases — they’re often paramount in those cases,” Ezra said.

See here for the background. The judge’s questions, which the Observer examined in more detail, are the key to the case. During the trial, there was testimony by Blake Howard Norton, the daughter of State Rep. Donna Howard, about how she felt coerced by the Catholic hospital where she was going through a miscarriage into making a decision about disposing of the fetus, and there was more useless testimony from paid state witnesses who lacked any expertise in the subject matter and the law. I feel like the judge is skeptical of the law, but we’ll see what he has to say about it. The Chron has more.

“Fetal remains” lawsuit trial underway

Here we go.

State and reproductive rights attorneys are going head to head again in federal court on Monday to argue whether Texas should require health providers to cremate or bury fetal remains.

“It’s a tough case for everybody,” U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra said Friday during a pretrial hearing. In January, he had granted an injunction blocking a state fetal remains burial rule, but he said last week that the previous decision is no indication of how he would rule in the trial.

“It’s a very emotional case, and so I would ask counsel to do the best job they can to try and tamp down some of the more zealous individuals in your respective camps so that we don’t get a lot of extraneous stuff going on,” Ezra said to attorneys for the state and the Center for Reproductive Rights, who are representing the plaintiffs.

Arguments in the trial are expected to run all week.

[…]

Ezra listened as both sets of attorneys spent nearly two hours going over logistics of the trial and other issues including whether certain witnesses would be allowed to testify about the emotional trauma of abortions and fetal remain burials and keeping information about vendors confidential for safety reasons.

Throughout Friday’s pretrial hearing, Ezra laid out for attorneys what was on the court’s mind about the case, including: if women may face an undue burden if there aren’t enough providers or facilities statewide; the logistics of how doctors and clinics would deal with the law if it went into effect; and if Texas has enough facilities available statewide to help dispose of the fetal remains.

“I have to deal with this as a law in Texas that will affect every woman in the state of Texas,” Ezra said.

Another point of contention during the hearing was what to do about a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision on whether the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops would have to turn over confidential internal documents to the Center for Reproductive Rights and Whole Woman’s Health for the fetal remains trial. Ezra had previously ruled it would, but in the middle of the pretrial hearing the 5th Circuit informed him it had reversed his decision.

See here for the previous update. I have no idea how this one may go, but I’ll be keeping an eye on it. There’s certainly a chance that none of this will matter given the likely future composition of SCOTUS, but we have to go through the process anyway. The Chron has more.

“Fetal remains” law blocked in court

It’s deja vu all over again.

Texas’ second attempt to require health providers to bury or cremate fetal remains has been temporarily thwarted by a federal judge and another court battle is imminent.

In his Monday afternoon ruling, U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra said the Texas Department of State Health Services’ arguments “lack merit.”

“For those eager for a result in this case, it is tempting to read the Court’s decision as a signal on who will win at trial or as a determination of the validity of Plaintiffs’ claims,” Ezra said. “Such guesswork would be premature. The Court only concludes Plaintiffs establish injunctive relief is warranted to preserve the status quo.”

The current fight is over Senate Bill 8, a law passed during the 2017 legislative session that has a provision forcing health care facilities to bury or cremate any fetal remains from abortions, miscarriage or treatment for ectopic pregnancy, regardless of their patients’ personal wishes or beliefs. That provision was supposed to go into effect Feb. 1.

In his temporary ruling, Ezra said attorneys for the Center for Reproductive Rights, who are representing the plaintiffs, showed evidence that the new rule would infringe on women’s right to an abortion and that medical providers would have a difficult time following through with the rule, causing them to be fined.

Ezra’s ruling echoes a case from 2016 where reproductive rights groups sued to stop the Health and Human Services Commission from implementing a similar fetal burial rule. During the multi-day court hearing at the time, state attorneys said the rule was designed to provide aborted or miscarried fetuses a better resting place than a landfill. They also argued that there would be no cost for patients to worry about and only miniscule costs for providers. The state also said that there were multiple groups willing to help with costs.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks struck that rule down in 2017, saying it was vague, caused undue burden on women and had high potential for irreparable harm.

See here for some background on the legislation. This is just an injunction hearing, to decide whether to allow the law to take effect while the litigation is ongoing. The hearings and rulings on the merits come afterward. As noted, the rule that preceded this law was struck down almost exactly a year ago; the state is of course appealing that ruling. From the zealots’ perspective, it almost doesn’t matter if they win or lose. It’s time consuming and expensive for the clinics to fight – and let’s not forget, even as the omnibus HB2 was struck down awhile back, many clinics closed for good in the meantime – and it keeps the rubes whipped up. What’s not to like for them? A statement from the Center for Reproductive Rights is here, and the Current has more.

Abortion procedure ban struck down

Good news, for now.

A federal district judge handed a victory to abortion rights groups Wednesday when he struck down part of a Texas law curbing access to the most common second-trimester abortion procedure, called dilation and evacuation.

In a decision that will be appealed before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Lee Yeakel said the provision imposes an “undue burden” on women seeking second-trimester abortions in the state.

It had been slated to go into effect Sept. 1 as part of Senate Bill 8, a law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this year. But the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood filed suit in July on behalf of several women’s health providers in the state. Yeakel issued a temporary restraining order on enforcing the measure in August, a day before the ban’s effective date.

The temporary restraining order was set to expire Wednesday evening.

[…]

“The court concludes that requiring a woman to undergo an unwanted, risky, invasive, and experimental procedure in exchange for exercising her right to choose an abortion, substantially burdens that right,” Yeakel wrote in the opinion.

He added: “The State’s valid interest in promoting respect for the life of the unborn, although legitimate, is not sufficient to justify such a substantial obstacle to the constitutionally protected right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability.”

Almost immediately after the ruling was issued, Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement saying he’d appealed.

See here for the last update, and here for a copy of the ruling. The Fifth Circuit is a crapshoot with loaded dice, but at least for now doctors and women can do health care without the state butting in. The Austin Chronicle and the Center for Reproductive Rights have more.

Second trimester abortion lawsuit hearings conclude

Now we wait.

In a five-day trial that concluded Wednesday, lawyers for the state defended part of a Texas law that bans the most common second-trimester abortion procedure unless the fetus is deceased.

Abortion rights groups sued the state in July, arguing the provision restricting the dilation and evacuation procedure imposes an undue burden on Texas women seeking second-trimester abortions. Medical professionals deem the procedure the safest way to terminate a second-trimester pregnancy.

But the state argued in court the method is inhumane and that it’s reasonable to require fetal demise before the procedure is performed.

“The state has legitimate interest … in protecting the health of a woman and life of a fetus that may become a child,” said Darren McCarty, a lawyer for the state, in closing arguments. The provision at issue, he said, “regulates the moment of death, the moment of fetal termination, and nothing more. Whether … the lethal act is going to be, for instance, grabbing the leg and pulling it off the fetus, or whether instead the lethal act is going to be a single injection or perhaps just a snip of the umbilical cord.”

The trial centered on part of Senate Bill 8, a state law passed earlier this year that bans dilation and evacuation abortions unless the fetus is deceased. The ban had an effective date of Sept. 1. But Federal District Judge Lee Yeakel blocked its implementation with a temporary restraining order in August – a month after a lawsuit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood on behalf of several women’s health providers in the state. Whole Woman’s Health is the lead plaintiff.

During the dilation and evacuation procedure, doctors use surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue — a process proponents of the law have called “dismemberment abortion.” Doctors would face criminal charges for violating the ban; the only exception would be in cases of medical emergency.

Yeakel did not say when a ruling would come, but a temporary restraining order on enforcing the ban expires Nov. 22. The decision is likely to be appealed to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, an outcome Yeakel alluded to several times during trial.

See here for the background. We know the drill here, we’ve been down this road too many times already. All I can say is look what happened in this Tuesday’s elections, and think about what could happen here. The Center for Reproductive Rights has more.

Second trimester abortion lawsuit hearings begin

Deja vu all over again.

Texas abortion providers argued in court Thursday that it is not medically necessary to require women to undergo injections or other procedures in order to comply with a new state law restricting the most common second-trimester abortion procedure.

[…]

Dr. Mark Nichols, an Oregon-based doctor, called the dilation and evacuation procedure the safest method to perform a second-trimester abortion. Nichols argued the three most common procedures used to kill the fetus before performing the abortion are often complicated to perform, require extra training and are not always effective. He also believes they are not medically necessary.

“There is a real failure rate in the procedures we described,” he said.

If a similar law to SB8 existed in Oregon, Nichols said he would hesitate to perform the dilation and evacuation procedure out of fear that the fetus may still be alive, and he would then violate the law.

Under SB8, doctors would face criminal charges for violating the ban, except in a case of a medical emergency. The law was set to go into effect Sept. 1, but Yeakel blocked its implementation with a temporary restraining order which remains in effect.

Nichols said doctors may end up having to experiment on patients “to figure out how not to violate the law.”

According to 2015 data, the latest available, the procedure was used 4,386 times to terminate a pregnancy. In total, 55,287 abortions were performed that year, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for Friday coverage. The Trib had a story from before the hearings began, if you want more background. We all know that this is a multi-year process that will end up before the Supreme Court, and along the way the Fifth Circuit will rubber stamp the state’s law under whatever pretext it feels like using. It’s like the NBA regular season, where the real action is in positioning oneself for the final showdown. All I can say is that I’ve had a few medical procedures in my time, including a few surgeries, and I’m damn glad the state of Texas hasn’t tried to intervene in the treatment. I don’t want them to make medical decisions for my doctors, and I don’t want them making medical decisions for other people’s doctors. Not sure why this is so hard to understand.

Second trimester abortion procedure ban halted

For now, at least.

A federal judge has temporarily stopped Texas officials from enforcing a ban on the most common second-trimester abortion procedure, just one day before the ban was set to go into effect.

Judge Lee Yeakel of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas granted a temporary restraining order Thursday, delaying enforcement of the ban until Sept. 14. It was originally set to go into effect Sept. 1.

Senate Bill 8, which passed during the 2017 regular legislative session, banned dilation and evacuation abortions — where doctors use surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue — unless the fetus is deceased.

[…]

“The provisions of SB 8 that we’re challenging criminalize a safe and common method of abortion,” said Molly Duane, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Politicians in Texas are trying to punish doctors who are using their best medical judgment.”

In court Tuesday, [Darren McCarty, an attorney for the state] questioned the timing of the lawsuit’s filing, and argued it was a strategy to force the court to “rubber stamp” emergency relief days before the ban was slated to go into effect. Yeakel, agreeing, said he could see no reason why the suit couldn’t have been filed as soon as the governor signed the bill into law, and said its timing was a “real imposition” and put “maximum pressure” on the court to act at the last minute.

Yeakel also asked repeatedly what evidence legislators had considered before passing the law, and how Texas’ provision differs from similar bans that have been contested in other states. Laws like SB 8’s dilation and evacuation ban have been opposed or halted in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, according to a press release from the center. In court Tuesday, neither side pointed to substantive differences between Texas’ law and these others.

Duane said the new law is part of a “coordinated strategy by the state of Texas and by states around the country to ban abortion method by method, one restriction at a time, until it’s practically unavailable for women.”

See here and here for the background. No question, that is the strategy, and it has been a successful one. There will be another hearing on September 14 to either extend the ban, make it permanent pending appeal, or lift it. But as Judge Yeakel acknowledged, this is all just the first aria in a Wagner-length opera:

But this is the first battle in what is likely to be a long legal war. Yeakel wearily acknowledged as much on Tuesday, during a hearing on the temporary halt to the law. He called his court a “whistle stop on the train on the way to New Orleans, then on to Washington” for anti-abortion lawsuits, referring to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

There is a “constant never-ending stream of these cases and I think it will continue,” said a frustrated Yeakel about the new law, which would have gone into effect Friday. “It seems like the Legislature just jumps out and produces statutes, they’re signed by the governor, and then we start over here.”

Say it with me now: Nothing will change until the people we elect change. What are you doing to make 2018 different? The Current has more.

Latest abortion lawsuit heard in court

Here we go again, and again and again and again.

For the fifth time since 2013, lawyers for Texas will defend an abortion-related law or regulation Tuesday in the Austin federal courthouse, where they hope to reverse a string of legal defeats that included a precedent-setting decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The latest lawsuit seeks to block a law, passed by the Legislature in May and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, that bans “dismemberment abortions,” a term not used in medical literature or by doctors but which targets a procedure known as dilation and evacuation, commonly called D&E abortions.

Abortion providers argue that the law bans the safest and most commonly used procedure for second-trimester procedures, placing an unconstitutional limit on access to abortion that would force women into unnecessary medical procedures at a higher risk and with additional pain and expense.

[…]

The limit on D&E abortions was included in Senate Bill 8, a sweeping measure passed during the Legislature’s regular session that also requires fetal tissue to be buried or cremated, prohibits the use of fetal tissue from abortions in medical research and creates state crimes for two practices already prohibited by federal law: selling fetal body parts and performing “partial-birth” abortions.

Those regulations also take effect Sept. 1, although a federal judge in January blocked Texas from enforcing a similar fetal-burial rule that state health officials had adopted last year. Paxton has appealed that ruling.

In addition, during the special session that ended two weeks ago, the Legislature banned general insurance plans from covering abortions and required stricter reporting for abortion-related medical complications.

See here for the background. I never got around to posting about the rape insurance law, which is awful in its own way but probably not something that can be beaten in court. This kind of law has been halted in several other states, so there’s a chance. With September 1 just two days away, we should get a ruling quickly. Fingers crossed.

Yet another lawsuit filed over yet another unconstitutional anti-abortion law

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

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.

See here for the background, and here for the news release. This will be stopped by the courts, and when all is said and done we the taxpayers will get to pick up the tab for the legal fees incurred as the state defends this indefensible monstrosity. Personally, I think it would be more efficient to just make a donation to the CRR directly, but to each their own. Oh, and do keep in mind that the madness never ends, so get ready for even more of this fun in the not too distant future. The Observer and the Current have more.

This session’s unconstitutional abortion bill passes

Here we go again.

Right there with them

Texas senators voted Friday to send a bill banning the most common second-trimester abortion procedure and changing how health care facilities handle fetal remains to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Under Senate Bill 8, which passed 22-9, health care facilities including hospitals and abortion clinics would be required to bury or cremate any fetal remains — whether from abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth. The bill would also ban facilities from donating aborted fetal tissue to medical researchers, and aims to outlaw “partial-birth abortions,” which are already illegal under federal law.

Most controversially, the bill now bans dilation and evacuation abortions — a common second-trimester procedure where doctors use surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue — unless the fetus is deceased. Medical professionals deem the current method the safest way to perform the procedure on a pregnant woman, and reproductive rights groups have said this change would subject women to an unnecessary medical procedure.

[…]

Amanda Allen, senior state legislative counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a news release that Texas legislators are continuing “their crusade against a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion.”

“Texas women deserve access to the health care that is best for them and their personal circumstances — not abortion restrictions pushed by extreme anti-abortion organizations,” Allen said. “The Center for Reproductive Rights vows to battle any unconstitutional measures in the courts until the rights of Texas women are respected and protected.”

The group sued late last year over a Texas Department of State Health Services proposal requiring health providers to bury or cremate fetal remains. Center lawyers won a temporary restraining order and in January a federal judge ruled Texas could not proceed with the rule, citing its vagueness and potential to harm patients.

See here for the background. I don’t know what to say that I haven’t said already, but if I’m going to repeat myself anyway, I’ll say this again: Nothing will change until the people we elect change. We have a chance to do something about this next year. It’s up to us.

Busy day in the Senate

They got stuff done, I’ll give them that. Whether it was stuff worth doing or not, I’ll leave to you.

1. Senate bill would let Houston voters weigh in on fix to pension crisis.

The Senate on Wednesday voted 21-10 to give preliminary approval of a bill that would require voters to sign off before cities issue pension obligation bonds, a kind of public debt that infuses retirement funds with lump-sum payments. Issuing $1 billion in those bonds is a linchpin of Houston officials’ proposal to decrease the city’s unfunded pension liabilities that are estimated to be at least $8 billion.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told The Texas Tribune earlier this month that if the bill becomes law and voters reject the $1 billion bond proposition, a delicate and hard-fought plan to curb a growing pension crisis would be shrouded in uncertainty. He also argued that the debt already exists because the city will have to pay it at some point to make good on promises to pension members.

But lawmakers said voters should get to weigh in when cities take on such large amounts of bond debt.

“Of course the voters themselves should be the ultimate decider,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who authored the bill.

[…]

State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said at a hearing on several pension bills last week that Houston voters would likely approve the pension bonds – and that she would publicly support the measure. Nonetheless, holding an election on the issue is worthwhile, she maintained.

“The voters want to have a say when the city takes on debt in this way,” she said.

See here and here for the background. The referendum that the Senate bill would require is not a sure thing as the House bill lacks such a provision. We’ll see which chamber prevails. As you know, I’m basically agnostic about this, but let’s please skip the fiction that the pension bonds – which the city has floated in the past with no vote – represents “taking on debt”. The city already owes this money. The bonds are merely a refinancing of existing debt. Vote if we must, but anyone who opposes this referendum is someone who wants to see the pension deal fail. Speaking of voting…

2. Senate OKs measure requiring public vote on Astrodome project.

In a move that could block Harris County’s plans to redevelop the Astrodome, the Texas Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation that would require a public vote on using tax funds on the project.

Senate Bill 884 by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, would require a public vote before Harris County can spend any taxpayer money to improve or redevelop the Astrodome. “Elections are supposed to matter … and this is an example of how a governing body is trying to ignore an election and go contrary to a popular vote,” Whitmire said.

[…]

The proposal has drawn opposition from Houston lawmakers who said that move violates the 2013 decision by voters.

Sens. Paul Bettencourt and Joan Huffman, both Houston Republicans, said voters should be given the opportunity to determine whether the new project goes forward because they earlier rejected spending tax money on the restoration.

“The taxpayers of Harris County would be on the hook for this project, and they should be allowed to have a say in whether they want to pay for it,” Huffman said.

Added Whitmire, “After the voters have said no, you don’t go back with your special interests and spend tax money on the Astrodome anyway.”

See here, here, and here for the background. You now where I stand on this. Commissioners Court has to take some of the blame for this bill’s existence, as the consequences of failure for that 2013 referendum were never specified, but this is still a dumb idea and an unprecedented requirement for a non-financed expenditure.

3. Fetal tissue disposal bill gets initial OK in Texas Senate.

Legislation that would require medical centers to bury or create the remains of aborted fetuses won initial approval in the Texas Senate Wednesday.

Because Senate Bill 258 by Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, did not have enough votes to be finally approved, a follow-up vote will be needed before it goes to the House.

In the Republican-controlled Senate, where anti-abortion fervor runs strong, that step is all but assured.

[…]

After lengthy debate on Wednesday, the measure passed 22-9. Final passage in the Senate could come as soon as Thursday, after which it will go to the House for consideration.

It is one of several abortion-related measures that have passed the Senate this legislative session. Republican lawmakers supported Senate Bill 8 that would ban abortion providers from donating fetal tissue from abortions for medical research, and Senate Bill 415, which targets an abortion procedure known as “dilation and evacuation.”

Bills also have been filed by Democrats to reverse the 24-hour period a woman must wait to get an abortion and to cover contraceptives for Texans under age 18. The likelihood of those being approved in the GOP-controlled Legislature is considered almost nil.

I have no idea what that second paragraph means; all bills are voted on three times. Whatever. That sound you hear in the background are the lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights loosening up in the bullpen.

4. Texas Senate approves ban on government collecting union dues.

A controversial bill to prohibit state and local governments from deducting union dues from employees’ paychecks was tentatively approved Wednesday by the Texas Senate after a divisive, partisan debate.

The Republican author, Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, denied the measure was anti-union or was designed to target a historical source of support for Democrats, even though she acknowledged that Republican primary voters overwhelmingly support the change.

Police, firefighter and emergency medics’ organizations are exempted from the ban, after those groups had threatened to kill the bill if they were covered the same as teacher groups, labor unions and other employee associations.

Groups not exempted will have to collect dues on their own, a move that some have said will be cumbersome and expensive. Those groups include organizations representing correctional officers, CPS workers and teachers, among others.

I’m going to hand this off to Ed Sills and his daily AFL-CIO newsletter:

Huffman, knowing she had the votes, repeatedly fell back on the argument that government should not be in the business of collecting dues for labor organizations. She never offered any justification for that view beyond ideology. Nor did she provide evidence of a problem with using the same voluntary, cost-free payroll deduction system that state and local employees may steer to insurance companies, advocacy organizations and charities.

Huffman tried to make the distinction between First Responders, who are exempt from the bill, and other state and local employees by saying police and firefighter unions are not known to “harass” employers in Texas. But she had no examples in which other unions of public employees had “harassed” employers.

“One person’s harassment is another person’s political activism,” Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said while questioning Huffman about the bill.

Watson noted the main proponents of the bill are business organizations that do not represent public employees.

Huffman was also grilled by Sens. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, José Rodriguez, D-El Paso, John Whitmire, D-Houston, Royce West, D-Dallas, and Borris Miles, D-Houston. Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, offered several strong amendments, but they were voted down by the same margin that the bill passed. The senators relayed testimony from a variety of public employees who said SB 13 would be a significant hardship to them and they could not understand why the Legislature would pursue the bill.

At one point, Huffman declared, “This is a fight against unions.” But it was beyond that, even though the measure was first conceived by the rabidly anti-union National Right to Work Foundation and even though the Texas Public Policy Foundation published a report estimating a substantial decline in public union membership if the bill becomes law. It’s a fight against teachers, against correctional officers, against child abuse investigators and against most other stripes of public employees who only want what most working people would consider a routine employer service.

Particularly galling was Huffman’s general assertion that correctional officers, teachers and other dedicated public employees fall short in some way when it comes to meriting payroll deduction, which state and local governments basically provide with a few clicks of a keyboard.

Huffman was under certain misimpressions. In questioning by Whitmire, she repeatedly declared that it would be “easy” for unions to collect dues through some automatic process outside payroll deduction. Whitmire stated, however, that many state employees make little and do not have either checking accounts or credit cards. Huffman was skeptical that some union members essentially operate on a cash-in, cash-out basis.

Despite her assertion that it would be easy to collect dues from public employees outside payroll deduction, Huffman clearly recognized that when other states approved similar bills, union membership dropped.

To use an oft-spoken phrase, it’s a solution in search of a problem. And as with the other bills, further evidence that “busy” is not the same as “productive”. See here for more.

“Fetal remains” rule blocked

Good.

U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks ruled Texas cannot require health providers to bury or cremate fetuses, delivering another blow to state leaders in the reproductive rights debate.

On Friday afternoon, Sparks wrote in his ruling that Texas Department of State Health Services’ fetal remains burial rule’s vagueness, undue burden and potential for irreparable harm were factors in his decision. He also wrote that the state had proposed the new rule “before the ink on the Supreme Court’s opinion in Whole Woman’s Health was dry.”

“The lack of clarity in the Amendments inviting such interpretation allows DSHS to exercise arbitrary, and potentially discriminatory, enforcement on an issue connected to abortion and therefore sensitive and hotly contested,” Sparks said.

[…]

During two public hearings, department leaders heard stories of abortions, miscarriages, and general grief over losing a baby. While anti-abortion groups argued that the rule was a means to bring human dignity to the fetuses, reproductive rights advocates said the rule was another way for Texas to punish women who chose an abortion, saying the cost of the burials would be passed on to patients, making abortions harder to obtain for low-income Texans.

During multi-day court hearings earlier this month, state attorneys said the rule was designed to provide aborted or miscarried fetuses a better resting place than a landfill. They also argued that there would be no cost for patients to worry about and only miniscule costs for providers. The state also said that there were multiple groups willing to help with costs.

But Center for Reproductive Rights lawyers argued the rule had no public health merits and no clear directions on how it would work for providers. Providers who testified noted it was unclear if they would be on the hook for fines and disciplinary action from Texas if the nonprofit groups mishandled the fetuses. They also said separating fetuses away from other medical waste would likely mean an uptick in costs for transportation and new disposal procedures.

Sparks expressed frustration throughout the court proceedings that neither side could provide a firm estimate of the costs of implementing the rule. He also, one point, agreed with Center for Reproductive Rights attorneys’ argument that there would be no public health benefits.

In his ruling, Sparks wrote that the department’s estimates don’t know “the true impact” of the rule and that their “simple math” is “unsupported by research and relies heavily on assumptions.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the order; the full order is here. Note that this is just an injunction pending the actual lawsuit to overturn the ruling. The injunction strongly suggests that Judge Sparks thinks the plaintiffs will prevail, but that matter has not been decided yet. Now a trial date will be set and we will proceed from there, while the state will pursue an appeal to rescind the injunction and allow the rule, which had been scheduled to take effect on Friday, to be put in place for the duration of the trial.

Republicans like Ken Paxton are predictably gnashing their teeth about this, but if this rule was so important for the sanctity of life and dignity of the mothers and whatever else, then why wasn’t it proposed earlier than last year in the immediate wake of the HB2 ruling? Rick Perry could have proposed this a decade or more ago. Greg Abbott could have proposed it in 2015. If it was so damn important, why did they wait so long? Who had even heard of such a thing before last year? The timing of the rule gives the show away. It deserves the fate it got from Judge Sparks. A press release from the Center for Reproductive Rights is here, and the Chron, the Statesman, the Current, and the Austin Chronicle have more.

“Fetal remains” rule still on hold

Take all the time you need.

As he considers a final ruling on the state’s fetal remains burial rule, U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks is delaying the start date of the rule for at least another three weeks.

On Wednesday afternoon, after attorneys for the state of Texas and the Center for Reproductive Rights made their closing remarks, Sparks said he would need more time to review evidence and witness testimony before making a final ruling about the state’s effort to require medical providers to bury or cremate aborted fetuses. The Texas Department of State Health Services had originally scheduled the rule to go into effect Dec. 19.

[…]

For the state, Sparks said he wanted further explanation on the logic behind barring providers from incinerating fetal remains, a medical waste procedure the state has long allowed. He also wanted direction on why the state’s rule should not be viewed as a political statement. He said he did not “think there’s any question” that there isn’t public health benefit to the proposed rule.

“There’s no health benefit, there’s no health problem, there was no problem to be fixed and it’s for the dignity of the fetus or however you want to describe it,” Sparks told state’s attorneys. “I think all life matters and needs dignity but that’s not the point…the point is just as I asked opposing counsel: ‘what is the thought of taking the majority of disposal out?'”

Sparks told attorneys with the Center for Reproductive Rights that he wanted them to identify from their evidence and witness testimony how the rule is unconstitutional and how it would create a burden for women.

Sparks said neither side had made headway on establishing how provider’s costs would be impacted if the rule were implemented.

See here and here for the background. This was a two-day hearing – here’s the Trib story from Day One.

Attorneys for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which sued to stop the rule, called witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing who continuously expressed that the rule is “vague,” doesn’t give enough clarity for medical providers and has no public health benefits.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, the main plaintiff in the case, said on the stand that the rule was “discriminatory” and “offensive.” She said while groups like the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops have stepped up to take on the cost of cremations and burials, the rule is unclear about who would be responsible for making sure the remains are properly disposed of. She said that vagueness puts providers in a vulnerable position where they could face fines or disciplinary actions by the state if those non-medical groups do something wrong. Also troubling, Miller said, is that it’s difficult for abortion providers to keep a steady roster of medical waste vendors due to alleged harassment from anti-abortion groups.

“It’s confusing for most of us to figure what a clear path would be to compliance,” Miller said. “I find words like ‘interment’ and ‘incineration’ and ‘cremation’ and ‘funeral’ are really confused and used intermittently in a way that is difficult for us to understand and difficult for the public to understand.”

The Statesman notes that the Ag had a bit of a rough time on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks abruptly halted a hearing on the constitutionality of the rule and ordered state lawyers to appear in his Austin courtroom, with answers, at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday — a half-hour before the hearing was set to continue for a second and final day.

Visibly frustrated, Sparks said it appeared that the rule, drafted by state health officials and praised by Republican leaders for prohibiting fetal remains from being deposited in sanitary landfills, appeared to improperly countermand a state law allowing cremated ashes to be scattered over any private property with the owner’s consent.

“I want the state to give me answers about how one regulation can overrule another state statute,” the judge said.

[…]

The lead lawyer for the state, John Langley with the attorney general’s office, challenged both abortion providers by repeatedly pointing out that “the rules don’t regulate women at all,” but instead require health care centers to ensure that fetal tissue is properly buried or cremated. Nor does the rule impose funeral requirements on women because it doesn’t require individual burials for each fetus, he said.

Langley also argued that concerns about increased costs were overblown, pointing out that the abortion providers’ own economist estimated that the new rule would add only 54 cents to $1.56 in costs per abortion.

However, economist Anne Layne-Farrar testified that the anticipated cost was based on an estimate provided by the only crematorium that appeared willing and able to handle fetal tissue at a feasible cost. The Dallas-area crematorium, however, is unlikely to be able to handle medical waste from all Texas abortion facilities, let alone from doctor’s offices that provide miscarriage care, she said.

Layne-Farrar also said it was risky to rely on one vendor that, if lost, would force abortion providers to turn to funeral homes that would likely charge $500 to $700 per cremation.

When a lawyer for Texas suggested that clinics could save money by cremating several weeks’ worth of fetal tissue at a time, Layne-Farrar said most of the 11 funeral homes contacted for her study said ethical considerations prohibited them from cremating or burying more than one body at a time.

Does any of that give you confidence that this was something other than a hastily-decreed retaliation for the SCOTUS HB2 ruling from last year? I mean, come on. Judge Sparks had previously been expected to rule on Friday, but clearly we’re going to have to wait a little longer than that. The Chron and the Austin Chronicle have more.

“Fetal remains” rule put on hold

Good.

A federal judge has delayed Texas’ fetal remains burial rule until Jan. 6.

Judge Sam Sparks ruled Thursday afternoon that the Texas Department of State Health Services would have to push back its start date for requiring health providers to bury or cremate aborted fetuses. The agency had originally slated the rule to go into effect Dec. 19.

Under the rule, Texas health providers are forbidden from disposing of fetal remains in sanitary landfills, regardless of gestation period.

Sparks said each side would get about five hours for a hearing on Jan. 3-4 to make their cases. He said there would likely be a decision on Jan. 6.

See here for the background. The state argued that there is “no increase in costs to health care providers and patients”, which is only true if the funeral homes that had been disposing of remains pro bono in the past do not pass along the significant costs that this rule imposes on them.

The Austin Chronicle adds some details.

Sparks appeared far more confrontational toward state defendants, commenting that Texas must show reasons for implementing the rule other than “political” ones. He also cast ample skepticism on the state’s timing of the rule – filed just four days after their loss in the House Bill 2 case at the U.S. Supreme Court – calling it “curious,” more than once. In a moment of commentary, Sparks said the war against abortion rights is raging “quicker and meaner” than it has in the last 40 years.

State assistant attorney John Langley defended the rule as a “modest step” to protect the unborn, but failed to give evidence of its public health benefit. He argued that the rule in “no way regulates a woman’s right to choose” or places an imposition on clinics. Revealing the intention of the anti-choice regulation, Langley was unable to answer how the rule practically advances a health and safety interest – the very objectives the state health department is tasked with. When asked about how the rule prevents the spread of disease and protects health, the attorney called it a “side issue” to the real goal: Protecting the “dignity” of the unborn. “I acknowledge I don’t have a satisfactory answer, your honor,” said Langley.

Following the hearing, CRR’s Brown called the state’s inability to provide a health rationale “remarkable” and more evidence that the rule is meant to “disrespect” abortion-seeking women. “This rule is really intended to send a message to the Supreme Court that Texas is defying them,” said Brown.

When Langley objected to the temporary restraining order, an agitated Sparks noted that “this is the first time the state of Texas has ever said it was going to go ahead [with a rule] when there’s a suit of substance before the federal court,” and before full trial arguments were heard. “I’m going to remember that.”

Perhaps a contempt charge might be in order, if it comes to that. I mean, look, if this rule is so necessary, then why did it take the state so long to implement it? It didn’t require legislative intervention, just a word from the Governor to State Health Services. Rick Perry could have done this. Greg Abbott could have done it in 2015. Heck, Dubya could have done it. Why did it not happen until shortly after the Whole Women’s Health ruling? The question answers itself. Trail Blazers, the Current, the Press, and the Chron have more.

“Fetal remains” lawsuit filed

As expected.

Today the Center for Reproductive Rights filed new litigation against the state of Texas over unconstitutional new regulations that mandate the burial or cremation of embryonic and fetal tissue that results from abortions, miscarriages, or ectopic pregnancy surgery – regardless of the woman’s personal wishes or beliefs.

The politically-motivated rules are designed to restrict a woman’s right to access safe and legal abortion by increasing both the cost of reproductive health care services and the shame and stigma surrounding abortion and pregnancy loss.

The lawsuit demands that the state halt implementation of regulations finalized late last month by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The final rules disregard widespread objection from medical organizations, legal experts and others who argue that these unconstitutional new restrictions offer no public health or safety benefit.

The regulations – first proposed just four days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision in June – are in direct defiance of the high court’s ruling, which held that restrictions on legal abortion cannot impose burdens on a woman’s right to access abortion care without providing any legitimate, medical benefit.

Said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“These regulations are an insult to Texas women, the rule of law and the U.S. Supreme Court, which declared less than six months ago that medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion access are unconstitutional.

“These insidious regulations are a new low in Texas’ long history of denying women the respect that they deserve to make their own decision about their lives and their healthcare.  

“The Center for Reproductive Rights will continue to fight for Texas women, and women across the nation, to ensure their rights are protected.”

Said Amy Hagstrom-Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, lead plaintiff in the case:

“Texas’ profound disrespect of women’s health and dignity apparently has no bounds with this new regulation announced just days after our June victory in the Supreme Court. This latest attack is an end run game to add restrictions on abortion care and it ignores thousands of Texan’s testimony and comments.

“We at Whole Woman’s Health have a history of fighting restrictions that are deeply rooted in shaming and stigmatizing Texans and today’s filing is no different. We will not stand for Texas putting more undue burdens on women and families who deserve the safe and compassionate abortion care that we provide at Whole Woman’s Health.”

Today’s lawsuit was filed by David Brown and Molly Duane of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Austin attorneys Jan Soifer and Patrick O’Connell of the law firm O’Connell & Soifer, and J. Alexander Lawrence of the law firm Morrison & Foerster in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on behalf of Whole Woman’s Health, Brookside Women’s Health Center and Austin Women’s Health Center, Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services, Reproductive Services and Dr. Lendol Davis.

The regulations are part of an ongoing attack across the country to restrict access to legal abortion through unnecessary regulations that endanger women’s health and safety. State legislators have passed more than 330 new restrictions on abortion access in the last five years alone.

The new litigation comes as Texas faces a $4.5 million legal bill over its defense of the sham clinic shutdown laws struck down by the Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

See here and here for the background. As I said before, I expect the plaintiffs will be able to get an injunction at the district court level, but after that anything can happen. I will of course be keeping an eye on it. The Trib, the Austin Chronicle, the Current, the Chron, and Trail Blazers have more.

“Fetal remains” lawsuit in the works

Get ready.

Health providers and abortion clinics have less than two weeks to figure out how to comply with Texas’ new fetal remains rules — that is, if a lawsuit doesn’t halt the process first.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder of abortion provider Whole Woman’s Health, said she is working with the Center for Reproductive Rights on a potential lawsuit opposing the rules. Any lawsuit would need to be filed next week because the rules are set to take effect Dec. 19.

“Here we are, with a situation where Texas is trying to restrict access to safe abortion care by any means necessary,” she said. “It’s really cruel.”

[…]

Health care entities haven’t said how they will comply. Hagstrom Miller, one of the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court abortion case, said that she is still working on a path to compliance but that Whole Woman’s Health is first trying to determine what the rules would entail.

“The regulations as written are very confusing,” she said. “We’re trying to figure out exactly what the law requires.”

See here for the background. I feel reasonably confident that an injunction can be had in district court. What happens after that, with the Fifth Circuit and SCOTUS, is anyone’s guess. But the Center for Reproductive Rights (who you should totally support) won before, and I have faith they can win again. It’s just a damn shame they have to.

The costs of the “fetal remains” rule

This is going to cost a lot of people a lot of money.

State health officials have contended that the “minimum costs in complying with the rules” would total $450 a year per health care facility, arguing that those costs would be offset by the elimination of the cost of landfill disposition.

But Michael Land, a funeral home director and spokesman for the [Texas Funeral Directors Association], said that’s unrealistic and that the costs associated with compliance are likely a “higher dollar amount than what they’re projecting.”

Cremations through a third-party crematorium range from $75 to $100 per specimen. If individuals choose burials, the minimum cost of a small space in a cemetery is $500 and caskets of the appropriate size would likely cost $100, Land said.

If you add labor on the part of the funeral home, the fees could go into the thousands of dollars, he added.

Responding to those concerns, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission said the rules don’t require that “these processes” go through funeral homes. Health care providers can work directly with crematoriums or medical waste companies to comply with the rules, said spokeswoman Carrie Williams.

“[Funeral homes] don’t have a mandatory role, and funerals are not required by these rules,” Williams said. “Incineration is still available as an option.”

But the rules indicate that incineration of fetal remains must be followed by interment. State health officials define interment as the “disposition of pathological waste using the process of cremation, entombment, burial, or placement in a niche or by using the process of cremation followed by placement of the ashes in a niche, grave, or scattering of ashes as authorized by law.”

Among the few exceptions to the rule are miscarriages or abortions that occur at home. But fetal remains from miscarriages that occur at health care facilities will still require interment — even if the patient does not desire it.

For those in the funeral business, the increased demand for cremations could mean ending their practice of charitably cremating the tissue from a miscarriage for parents who wished to have a funeral.

“What had always been pretty much a charitable process is now going to become costing quite a bit of money,” Land said. It’s estimated that 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage.

See here for the background. Someone is going to pay for this little unfunded mandate, and there are a lot more women who have miscarriages than abortions. Remember, this only became a thing after HB2 was thrown out by SCOTUS last year. With any luck, this will meet a similar fate after it takes effect on the 19th.

“Fetal remains” rule goes into effect

Cue up that next lawsuit.

Texas’ proposed rules requiring the cremation or burial of fetal remains will take effect Dec. 19, according to state health officials.

Despite intense outcry from the medical community and reproductive rights advocates, the state will prohibit hospitals, abortion clinics and other health care facilities from disposing of fetal remains in sanitary landfills, instead allowing only cremation or interment of all remains — regardless of the period of gestation.

[…]

Proposed at the direction of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, the health commission had argued the rules would result in “enhanced protection of the health and safety of the public.” Abbott said in a fundraising email that the rules were proposed because he doesn’t believe fetal remains should be “treated like medical waste and disposed of in landfills.”

But the new requirement prompted outrage from the reproductive rights community, which accused state leaders of pushing unnecessary regulations. Women who experienced miscarriages or lost children in utero questioned why the state would make their situations more difficult by enacting the requirements. And medical providers — including the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association — had also raised concerns about who would bear the costs associated with cremation or burial — a figure that can reach several thousand dollars in each case.

In response to those concerns, health officials indicated that health care facilities — and not patients — will be responsible for the disposal of fetal remains and related costs. They also wrote that those costs would be “offset by the elimination of some current methods of disposition.”

See here, here, and here for the background. If you think it’s a coincidence that this was proposed within a few weeks of the SCOTUS ruling striking down HB2, I’ve got a carload of diplomas from Trump University to sell you. Let’s get that next lawsuit going so we can maybe have an injunction in place before this atrocity can take effect. (And if you want to help facilitate that, a donation to the Center for Reproductive Rights would be a fine way to do so.) The Austin Chronicle has more.

The cost of defending HB2

It was quite expensive.

Texas could be on the hook for more than $4.5 million as part of its failed legal battle to defend its 2013 abortion restrictions, which the U.S. Supreme struck down as unconstitutional in June.

The Center for Reproductive Rights late Friday filed its request for that amount in attorney’s fees and other expenses incurred in the lawsuit challenging House Bill 2, which required all Texas facilities performing abortions to meet hospital-like standards and forced doctors at those clinics to have admitting privileges at a hospital less than 30 miles away. In a lawsuit brought by the New York-based organization on behalf of Texas abortion providers, the Supreme Court overturned those provisions on a 5-3 vote.

Because the abortion providers were the prevailing party in the federal lawsuit, the court has allowed the Center for Reproductive Rights and other attorneys who worked on the case to ask to recover costs for the lawsuit. The state is expected to file its response by Nov. 4, and the judge who oversaw the case — U.S. district judge Lee Yeakel — will decide if the abortion providers’ lawyers will be awarded anything.

“Time and again, politicians in Texas have proven to be as reckless with taxpayer dollars as they are with the health and well-being of the people they serve,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement.

This does not include the cost in time and materials for AG staffers in this, but for the most part I don’t consider that an extra expense, since these are employees and would be getting paid anyway. Let’s be clear that there’s a zero percent chance that the state pays that amount. Judge Yeakel will pick some smaller amount, taking the state’s objections into consideration if they have merit, and then the state will appeal. That may yield a smaller amount if they’re lucky, and it may wind up backfiring on them since the cost of the appeal will be taken into account as well. One way or the other, the final figure will be different. Whatever it winds up being, it will still be money wasted. The process begins in earnest when the state files its response, which is due November 4. Newsdesk and Texas Monthly have more.

The next abortion lawsuit should be on its way

We were warned it would need to happen.

Despite intense outcry from the medical community, reproductive rights advocates and funeral directors, Texas isn’t budging on a proposed rule to require the cremation or burial of fetal remains.

Following an initial public comment period that sparked medical concerns and a legal threat, Texas health officials have re-submitted for public consideration a proposed rule change that prohibits hospitals, abortion clinics and other health care facilities from disposing of fetal remains in sanitary landfills, instead allowing only cremation or interment of all remains regardless of the period of gestation — even in instances of miscarriages.

After considering hours of public testimony at an August hearing and more than 12,000 comments submitted in writing, the state made no changes to the rules, which are set to be published in the Texas Register on Sept. 30.

The rules were re-published “after reviewing the feedback and comments we received,” health commission spokeswoman Carrie Williams said on Wednesday. This will require another 30-day public comment period before the rules can go into effect.

[…]

The proposed rule has prompted outrage from the reproductive rights community, which has accused state leaders of enacting unnecessary regulations. Medical providers — including the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association — also questioned why the rule change does not allow an exception for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.

Despite making no revisions to the rules themselves, the commission has amended its analysis on the financial impact of the rule on health care organizations that must comply, saying the rules won’t increase “total costs” for health care facilities.

Medical professionals and funeral directors had raised concerns about who would bear the costs associated with cremation or burial — a figure that can reach several thousands dollars in each case — and questioned whether the new would trigger a requirement for death certificates so that fetal remains could be cremated or buried. (Under current rules, the state requires funeral directors or a “person acting as such” who take custody of a dead body or fetus to obtain an electronic report of death before transporting the body, according to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Texas.)

The amended fiscal analysis indicates that the methods allowed in the proposed rules “may have a cost” but “that cost is expected to be offset” by costs currently incurred by facilities. Hospitals and abortion providers currently contract with third-party medical waste disposal services.

See here and here for the background. All this happened by executive order, with no legislative input or public hearings, in the immediate aftermath of the SCOTUS decision striking down the odious HB2. If the words “undue burden” have not formed in your head by now, you need to go back and read that decision again. I guarantee, once this rule is in place, a lawsuit will follow.

More on the “fetal remains” rule change

It’s stupid, harmful, unnecessary, expensive, and almost certainly in violation of the SCOTUS ruling in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt. But other than that, no biggie.

In the aftermath of a car accident in 2014, Denee Booker was told by her doctor that the child she was carrying had died in utero.

To avoid complications, she agreed with her doctor’s suggestion to remove the fetus instead of waiting for it to “naturally pass,” Booker told state health officials during a Thursday hearing on a proposed state rule that would require the cremation or burial of fetal remains.

“That I would have had to take or make either of those decisions is mind-boggling and terrifying,” Booker said of the proposed requirements. “I can’t imagine how much worse that would’ve made my situation.”

Booker was among dozens who testified on a pending rule change that prohibits hospitals, abortion clinics and other health care facilities from disposing of fetal remains in sanitary landfills, instead allowing only cremation or interment of all remains — regardless of the period of gestation — even in instances of miscarriages.

[…]

Medical professionals and others have also questioned whether the new rules would trigger a requirement for death certificates so that fetal remains could be cremated or buried.

Under current rules, the state requires funeral directors or a “person acting as such” who take custody of a dead body or fetus to obtain an electronic report of death before transporting the body, according to the associations’ letter.

The Funeral Consumers Alliance of Texas came out against the measure. Sarah Reeves, a representative for the group, testified that the state’s fiscal analysis of the rule change was incomplete because it found there would be no significant cost to individuals or businesses that must comply.

In a letter submitted to health officials, the group’s director wrote that the average “basic fee” for funeral services is $2,000.

The proposed rule does not indicate who would pay those costs. Hospitals and abortion providers currently contract with third-party medical waste disposal services.

During the hearing, Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, suggested that abortion providers should absorb any “nominal increase” in costs associated with the cremation or burial rule as some funeral homes and cemeteries do in cases of miscarriages.

In questioning the health-related justifications for the proposed rules, Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Texas testified that state health officials have not provided any evidence that current methods used by abortion providers to dispose of fetal tissue — which have been approved by the state for 20 years — are less safe or not optimal for public health and safety.

State officials have defended the rule change, saying it was proposed in “the best interests of the public health of Texas.” They also say the proposed rule change reflects the state’s efforts to affirm the “highest standards of human dignity.”

Planned Parenthood has pointed out that the proposed rules treat fetal tissue differently than other medical tissue.

The rule change would not apply to other human tissue that might be removed during surgery, for instance, and the existing disposal methods were not modified for the placenta, gestational sac and other tissue that results from miscarriages and abortions, the organization wrote to health officials.

“While we support reasonable updates to rules that are within the department’s statutory authority and protect and enhance public health and safety, the proposed rules go beyond the limits of this authority, do not further these aims and appear motivated solely by political forces,” said Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood’s political arm in Texas.

The possibility of a legal challenge to the rule change hung over the hearing, with many repeating a warning by reproductive rights lawyers that the proposal “will almost certainly trigger costly litigation.”

See here for some background. The “possibility” of legal action is roughly 100%, I’d say. Lamar Hankins goes into great detail about why this proposed rule change is ridiculous, and it’s clear that this is another example of the state insisting it knows health and medicine better than any dumb ol’ doctors. The rules for this have been the same for 20 years, so the only motive I can think of for changing them now is backlash to Hellerstedt. Maybe the Department of State Health Services will reconsider before they make it official, but if not, we’ll see you in court again. The Observer, the Current, the Austin Chronicle, and Rewire have more.

Get ready for the next abortion lawsuit

Expect it in a couple of months.

Texas’ proposed rules requiring the cremation or burial of fetal remains “will almost certainly trigger costly litigation,” reproductive rights lawyers say.

In a letter to the Texas Department of State Health Services, lawyers with the Center for Reproductive Rights on Monday argued that the new rules — proposed at Gov. Greg Abbott‘s directive — are “plainly in violation” of the legal standard abortion regulations must meet to be deemed constitutional.

In a fundraising email sent to supporters last month, Abbott said he didn’t believe fetal remains should be “treated like medical waste and disposed of in landfills.”

With little notice and no announcement, Texas health officials in July proposed new rules to prohibit abortion providers from disposing of fetal remains in sanitary landfills, instead allowing only cremation or interment of all remains — regardless of the period of gestation. The burial or cremation rule seems to also apply to “spontaneous abortions,” or miscarriages.

A similar measure was signed into law in Indiana but was later blocked by a federal judge.

“Texas politicians are at it again, inserting their personal beliefs into the health care decisions of Texas women,” Stephanie Toti, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “The Center for Reproductive Rights is prepared to take further legal action to ensure that Texas women can continue to access abortion and other reproductive health care without interference by politicians.”

[…]

In defending the rule change, state health officials previously said it was proposed in “the best interests of the public health of Texas” and to affirm the “highest standards of human dignity.” In the fundraising letter, Abbott cited the rule change in saying that Texas is working to “turn the tides” against the abortion industry in the state and protect the “rights of the unborn.”

But the reproductive rights lawyers say the disposal requirements are “burdensome for both abortion care and miscarriage management.” And they say the proposed rules are out of line with the legal standard for abortion — that the burdens imposed on women from restrictions on the procedure cannot outweigh the benefits they provide the state, like promoting health.

That legal standard was clarified by the U.S. Supreme Court in its recent decision overturning Texas’ 2013 abortion restrictions. The center represented Texas abortion providers in that lawsuit, formally known as Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. 

I had not followed the rules change story – see BOR here and here for further reading on it – but you can see where this is heading. Between this and the BS “medical” pamphlet that gets pushed on abortion patients, there is definitely a case that these are “undue burdens” under the Hellerstedt decision. That’s not a slam dunk – remember as always that the Fifth Circuit will be involved in any litigation, and they upheld HB2 – and it will take some time (and money) to get a suit filed, get a hearing, and hopefully get an injunction for the interim. The anti-abortion zealots will never stop pushing boundaries. It’s what they do. The Current has more.

Wendy Davis takes a victory lap

As well she should.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis, the woman whose 11-hour filibuster focused national attention on Texas’ efforts to restrict abortion access in 2013, celebrated Monday when the Supreme Court ruled that the state law was unconstitutional.

“I’m overjoyed,” Davis said in an interview with MSNBC. “I have to tell you, I was fighting back tears a moment ago, as I was reading the SCOTUSblog and the first line that came out saying that the 5th Circuit opinion or decision had been reversed. It’s incredible news for the women of Texas. It’s incredible news for women throughout this country.”

In a 5-3 decision Monday, the Supreme Court struck down two abortion restrictions in a Texas law, known as HB 2, that would have shut down dozens of clinics across the state. It mandated that abortions take place in ambulatory surgical centers, or mini hospitals, instead of regular clinics.

On June 25, 2013, Davis, then a state senator, took to the floor of the Texas Senate to protest the legislation. Davis’ filibuster successfully helped Democrats delay passage of the bill, although the Senate later passed it in another session.

Since HB 2 went into effect, the number of abortion clinics in Texas has dropped from 42 to 19. Davis said Monday she expects it will take several months for access to rebound.

“But I know there are many people and organizations that are committed to making sure that that health care is returned, and that women have their reproductive freedoms restored in Texas,” she said on MSNBC. 

The title of this post is taken from a Dan Patrick sour grapes quote, and I can just imagine some of the things he’s been saying out of reporters’ earshot. Stings a little when you get slapped like that, doesn’t it, Dan? The point here is to remember that Wendy Davis was right. She was right that HB2 was a sham that would hurt women, she was right to get on the record all of the inconvenient fact-based medical questions that the Republicans refused to answer but the Supreme Court one day would, and she was right to stand and fight even though the votes were against her and she couldn’t later capitalize on that energy in the next election. The fight itself mattered, and even with the cost that came with it the vindication that Monday’s ruling brought was well earned and deserved. Whatever else happened since that day, Wendy Davis was right. We shouldn’t ever forget that.

SCOTUS strikes down HB2

Hallelujah.

Right there with them

Right there with them

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday handed Texas abortion providers a major victory by overturning Texas’ 2013 abortion restrictions.

On a 5-3 vote, the high court overturned restrictions passed as part of House Bill 2 in 2013 that required all Texas facilities that perform abortions to meet hospital-like standards — which include minimum sizes for rooms and doorways, pipelines for anesthesia and other infrastructure. The court also struck down a separate provision, which had already gone into effect, that requires doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic.

This means Texas’ 19 remaining clinics — of the more than 40 that were open before HB 2 passed — will continue to provide abortions. Had the court upheld the hospital-like standard requirement, Texas would have been left Texas with as few as 10 abortion clinics — all in major metropolitan areas.

In a majority opinion authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court indicated that the facility requirement on abortion clinics does not “benefit patients and is not necessary.” In knocking down the admitting privileges requirement, the court said “sufficient evidence” existed to prove that requirement “led to the closure of half of Texas’ clinics, or thereabouts.”

“We have found nothing in Texas’ record evidence that shows that, compared to prior law (which required a “working arrangement” with a doctor with admitting privileges), the new law advanced Texas’ legitimate interest in protecting women’s health,” Breyer wrote.

Here’s the opinion; there’s a brief but vital concurrence by Justice Ginsburg beginning on page 40. I’m just going to link to a bunch of stories about and reactions to this ruling, as I’m a bit too numb to offer anything of substance myself. The one thing I will say is that this in no way will diminish the appetite that the forced birth lobby has for finding new ways to imperil women’s health. There were going to be more bills restricting reproductive choice had HB2 been upheld, so you can bet your private parts there will be more such bills now that HB2 has been thrown out.

“I would expect an absolute onslaught of pro-life legislation in the next session,” said state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford. “I’ve never been this upset before, I mean just like truly upset,” he said of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

With a Republican governor at the helm of the state’s government and large Republican majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, new anti-abortion laws would very likely have enough popular support to pass when lawmakers meet again in 2017. The question now facing conservative Texas politicians is how to craft new abortion restrictions that would survive further legal challenges — and whether there is enough urgency for lawmakers to convene an immediate, emergency session to try to pass a new law.

A spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott, who can order state lawmakers to meet in a special legislative session to consider new laws, did not respond to a reporter’s question about whether the governor would do so.

But in the hours immediately following the Supreme Court’s ruling, dozens of state lawmakers began hinting at a new front in the state’s long-running battle over abortion rights, though they offered few specifics about what further anti-abortion laws might look like.

And while this ruling keeps open the clinics that would have closed, it can’t undo the damage of the clinics that had already been forced to close, most of which will never reopen. I hate being Debbie Downer, but there is no end to this, not in Texas and not elsewhere. Celebrate the victory, then get back to work. For way more discussion on this, see any or all of the following:

SCOTUSBlog
ThinkProgress times three
Wonkblog twice
Vox
Rewire
Slate
Daily Kos
TPM
Washington Monthly
Mother Jones
Houston Chronicle
The Observer
The Trib
Texas Monthly
The Austin Chronicle
The Current
BOR

Just waiting on SCOTUS’ HB2 ruling

We’ll know by the end of the month, one way or the other.

Right there with them

Right there with them

In the next few weeks the U.S. Supreme Court, in one of the most significant reproductive rights cases in more than two decades, is expected to determine the future of abortion access in Texas and possibly for other states across the country. SCOTUS has until June to issue a ruling and a decision could come as early as this Thursday.

“We are optimistic that the justices will say once and for all politicians cannot use flimsy health justifications to impose regulations that place substantial obstacles in front of a woman seeking to end a pregnancy,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, the group challenging Texas’ abortion-restrictive law, during a conference call Tuesday morning. “This is a watershed moment in the battle for reproductive rights. It’s an opportunity for the Supreme Court to protect the health and safety of women and put a stop to the onslaught of laws protecting safe and legal abortion.”

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt challenges two provisions of House Bill 2, the draconian 2013 package law pushed by anti-choice Texas legislators: a rule that forces physicians to secure admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic, and regulations that transform clinics into ambulatory surgical centers (ASC). The costly ASC rule has yet to take effect, but if upheld it’s expected to shutter all but as few as 10 clinics located in major metro areas. In Austin, only the Planned Parenthood ASC on Ben White Blvd. would survive. The other parts of HB 2 have led to an abortion care crisis – more than half of the states’ abortion clinics have closed, leaving 19 out of an initial 41 clinics.

Since oral arguments were held on March 2, health providers, patients, and advocates have waited anxiously for a SCOTUS ruling. While the state contends the rules are meant to protect the health and safety of women, attorneys on behalf of abortion care providers point to the devastating undue burden women in Texas face due to laws that fail medical justification, an argument bolstered by majormainstream medical groups. On a Tuesday morning conference call, attorneys challenging the law and a key plaintiff reiterated how much is at stake for Texas women.

“We have a situation in Texas where a right exists on paper but it’s out of reach for a tremendous amount of Texas women,” said lead plaintiff Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health clinics. “And we’ve seen a disproportionate effect on women of color, young women, and rural women.”

The Observer was on the same call.

Researchers at the University of Texas’ Texas Policy Evaluation Project, which tracks the impact of restrictions on abortion access, have found that HB 2 has forced Texans to wait longer for appointments, take on increased travel costs and obtain their abortions later into pregnancy.

Hagstrom Miller and her attorneys said they’re hopeful that the Supreme Court will ultimately strike down HB 2, even though conservative justices on the court seemed skeptical about the law’s effect on clinic closures during oral arguments earlier this year.

“We are optimistic that the Supreme Court will say once and for all that politicians can’t use flimsy justifications to impose regulations that create substantial obstacles” for women seeking abortions,” said Center for Reproductive Rights president Nancy Northup. “This is a watershed moment for reproductive rights.”

See here for the background. I wish I could be optimistic, but I feel too worn down by this fight to get out of my defensive crouch. I feel a 4-4 result coming, even if the remaining justices swear they don’t want to hand down tie votes. I sure hope I’m wrong.

SCOTUS also blocks Louisiana anti-abortion law for now

Forgot to note this over the weekend.

Right there with them

Right there with them

The Supreme Court handed down a brief order Friday allowing four Louisiana abortion clinics to reopen after they were closed due to a recent decision by a conservative federal appeals court.

Last week, an especially conservative panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit handed down an “emergency” decision permitting an anti-abortion Louisiana law to go into effect. Under this law, physicians cannot perform abortions unless they have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital — an increasingly common requirement masterminded by an anti-abortion group that drafts model bills for state legislatures. A challenge to a similar Texas law is currently pending before the justices.

The Supreme Court’s order temporarily suspends the Louisiana law, effectively preventing the Fifth Circuit’s Wednesday decision from taking effect. Only Justice Clarence Thomas explicitly dissented from the Court’s order.

Monday’s order from the Supreme Court is not surprising — indeed, the most surprising thing is that the Fifth Circuit permitted the Louisiana law to briefly take effect despite clear signals from the Supreme Court that they should not do so. The justices twice stayed Fifth Circuit decisions permitting Texas’ similar, if more comprehensive, anti-abortion law from taking effect. The first time, the Supreme Court issued a partial stay permitting two clinics to be exempt from Texas’s new credentialing requirements for abortion doctors. The second time, the justices handed down a more comprehensive stay of what may be the Fifth Circuit’s most aggressive anti-abortion decision.

See here and here for a bit of background. ThinkProgress then goes on to explain why this order from SCOTUS is different from every other order from SCOTUS.

Friday afternoon, the Supreme Court handed down a very brief order allowing several Louisiana abortion clinics to reopen after a conservative federal appeals court forced them to shut down. Yet, while the Supreme Court’s order was very short — only slightly more than a paragraph long — it contained 14 more words than such an order normally would. And those 14 words appear to be a direct swipe at the appeals court that shut down Louisiana’s clinics in the first place.

[…]

Just one week before the Supreme Court heard these arguments, however, the Fifth Circuit handed down another anti-abortion decision. In June Medical Services v. Gee, the Fifth Circuit granted an “emergency” motion reinstating a Louisiana law that was expected to shut down all but one of that state’s abortion clinics. The Louisiana law at issue in June Medical Services closely resembles a provision of the Texas law at issue in Whole Woman’s Health.

The Fifth Circuit’s order in June Medical Services was surprising, largely because the Supreme Court had already dropped some pretty big clues that a majority of the justices disapprove of the Fifth Circuit’s decisions forcing abortion clinics to close. Among other things, the justices stayed the Fifth Circuit’s Whole Woman’s Health decision pending the Supreme Court’s own resolution of the case — effectively enabling many Texas abortion clinics to remain open that would be closed if the Fifth Circuit’s order were still in effect.

Nevertheless, the Fifth Circuit decided not to take the hint that Texas-style attempts to shut down clinics should be placed on hold. Instead, the Fifth Circuit claimed in June Medical Services that it was free ignore this hint because, when the Supreme Court stayed Whole Woman’s Health, it did so in a brief order without explaining its reasoning. “No guidance can be gleaned from the Supreme Court’s vacating portions of the stay without explanation,” according to the lower court, “as we cannot discern the underlying reasoning from the one-paragraph order.”

Which brings us back to the 14 significant words in the Supreme Court’s most recent order. “Consistent with the Court’s action granting a stay in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole,” that order begins, the Fifth Circuit’s order reinstating the Louisiana law is vacated.

These 14 words are a subtle spanking, but they are a spanking nonetheless. They directly contradict the Fifth Circuit’s claim that it can ignore the Supreme Court’s previous stay orders if the lower court “cannot discern the underlying reasoning” behind those orders. And they rebut the Fifth Circuit’s logic on its own terms. Why shouldn’t lower courts allow Texas-style abortion restrictions to go into effect in the future? Because halting these laws is “consistent with the Court’s action granting a stay in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole.”

So there you have it. ThinkProgress admits that one can over-read meaning into these situations, but coming off the way oral arguments for the HB2 case went, it’s hard not to feel a teeny bit of optimism. Not too much – let’s not get irrationally exuberant here – but a little. RH Reality Check and Slate have more.

Oral arguments before SCOTUS on HB2

From Texas Monthly:

Right there with them

Right there with them

It’s been a circuitous journey for HB2, the omnibus abortion bill the Texas Legislature passed 2013. Suits have been filed, the law has been overturned, appeals have been made. A collection of Texas abortion clinics, led by Whole Woman’s Health, filed the most debated lawsuit, which is aimed the broader provisions of the bill: Specifically, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt challenges the constitutionality of HB2’s requirement that doctors performing abortions in Texas have admitting privileges at hospitals and also the requirement that each clinic meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center.

Although the case had a similar courtroom path to previous suits against the law—including being overturned at the district level—Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt went even further. The Supreme Court stepped in almost immediately to issue an injunction against HB2 going into effect until the high court had the chance to hear it on appeal.

That happened Wednesday.

New York-based attorney Stephanie Toti, representing Whole Woman’s Health (and joined by U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli), made her arguments against HB2 before the eight-members of the court; representing Texas and Hellerstedt, our state’s Solicitor General Scott Keller defended the law.

There are a few key issues to be determined by the court. The first is if Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt is the appropriate case to be raising these arguments, or if another case, Planned Parenthood vs. Abbott, should have addressed them. Also related to that facet of the case is if the window for examining the law has since closed because that suit didn’t appeal to the Supreme Court. The second issue—and the one that received the majority of the focus Wednesday—is on the question of the “undue burden” on Texans seeking abortions. In the last major abortion case the court heard, 1992’s Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, the court found that states could impose restrictions on abortion if the restrictions didn’t pose an undue burden on the rights of the person who seeks an abortion. But that ruling didn’t specify a definition for “undue burden,” so attorneys on both sides attempted to make claims that the phrase does—or doesn’t—refer to HB2.

[…]

The pressure stayed on Keller throughout the duration of his argument, with Sotomayor and Kagan looking past “undue burden” to get to the ultimate question surrounding the bill since it was being debated in Austin: Namely, is this about increasing standards of care, as some proponents of the bill have argued, or is it about restricting access, as the law’s opponents have claimed? (It’s worth noting that some of the bill’s supporters in the legislature—from former Lt. Governor Dewhurst to Sen. Eddie Lucio—have expressed more openly that they passed the bill out of an interest in opposing abortion.)

This came to a head near the close of oral arguments. Kagan hit on several points about the state’s interest in raising standards of care: She’d asked, for example, about whether the state had the right to require all health care providers to meet the standard of the best hospital in the country (citing Massachusetts General), to which Keller responded that the state did have that right, so long as it didn’t create an undue burden on people seeking treatment. Breyer and Sotomayor noted that the rate of complications in colonoscopies are higher than in abortions, but facilities that offer colonoscopies don’t face the same regulations that abortion clinics do under HB2. (The word “colonoscopy” was said a surprisingly high number of times for a Supreme Court hearing about abortion.)

But near the end of Keller’s argument, Kagan cut to the chase. She noted that she understood that Keller’s argument was that the law allows Texas to impose regulations on abortion clinics that it doesn’t apply to other procedures—but she wanted to know why it picked abortion.

“You said that as the law is now, under your interpretation of it, Texas is allowed to set much, much higher medical standards, whether it has to do with the personnel or procedures or the facilities themselves, higher medical standards, including much higher medical standards for abortion facilities than for facilities that do any other kind of medical work, even much more risky medical work. And you said that that was your understanding of the law; am I right?” Kagan asked Keller, “And I guess I just want to know: why would Texas do that?”

In all, it was an aggressive series of questions from the court’s liberal justices—but the fact that the four liberal justices would find a lot to dislike in HB2 isn’t exactly news. In the wake of Antonin Scalia’s death, the question became much more about what could be expected of the four remaining judges on the bench.

From Think Progress:

Prior to Wednesday’s oral argument and Scalia’s death, however, it was an open question whether this law would actually “withstand judicial obstacles.” The question on most Court-watchers’ mind was which Justice Kennedy would show up to hear this case. On the one hand, Kennedy finds abortion icky — just read some of the gruesome descriptions of a particular abortion procedure in Kennedy’s opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart to get a sense of just how icky he regards it. On the other hand, Kennedy is unwilling to kill Roe outright. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Kennedy coauthored an opinion that limited abortion rights, but which also purported to retain “the essential holding ofRoe v. Wade.” So the question on many Court-watchers minds before oral argument was whether Icky Kennedy or Casey Kennedy would show up to work today.

Icky Kennedy stayed at home. Though Kennedy did ask some tough questions about a procedural issue in this case, he largely remained silent as the liberal justices tore into Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller. And he asked a few questions on the merits that were critical of Keller’s arguments.

The liberal justices treated Texas’ arguments in much the same way that Holly Holm treated Ronda Rousey’s head. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that it makes no sense to require clinics to comply with expensive requirements applied to surgical facilities if those clinics perform no surgeries. Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor noted that Texas imposed these heavy burdens on abortion clinics, but did not impose them on facilities that perform riskier procedures. Colonoscopies, according to Breyer, are 28 times more likely to result in a complication than an abortion, but they do not need to be performed in an ambulatory surgical center.

[…]

Kennedy was almost completely silent during these one-sided exchanges, although he did chime in with a few questions while Keller was at the podium. At one point, he suggested that Keller’s arguments lead to the conclusion that Texas’s law creates an “undue burden” on the right to obtain an abortion, a conclusion that, under Casey, would require the Court to strike the law down. At another point, Kennedy expressed concern that the law caused many women who would otherwise have medication abortions to instead receive surgical abortions, a shift that “may not be medically wise.”

So that’s the good news for Team Choice. If this case is decided on the merits, it appears very likely that Kennedy will vote to strike down the Texas law.

The bad news is that it is far from clear that the Court will reach the merits. For complicated reasons related to the fact that the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical centers requirements were implemented on different schedules, the lower courts in this case ruled on a facial challenge to the first provision before fully considering the second one. Whole Woman’s Health came to the Supreme Court as an appeal from the second decision, and Texas argues that the plaintiffs are effectively precluded from pressing their facial challenge to the admitting privileges requirement at this stage of the litigation. Without diving into the very arcane nuances of this argument, it’s worth noting that this is a serious enough procedural complication that Justice Ginsburg raised it shortly after the lawyer for the plaintiffs’ took the podium.

During the Court’s discussion of this procedural issue, Kennedy raised the possibility of sending this case back down to the trial court so that it can engage in additional fact-finding that will help the justices sort through this issue. Should the Supreme Court ultimately go this route, it could delay final resolution of the case for as long as a couple of years. That’s not death to the abortion clinics in Texas, so long as the Texas law is stayed pending resolution of the case, but the possibility of more litigation undoubtedly hit abortion advocates with a thud as they contemplated two more years of fighting and uncertainty.

From SCOTUSBlog:

But when the argument turned from the reason for closures to a question of the capacity of any remaining clinics to handle the tens of thousands of abortions that women in the state seek every year, the case shifted abruptly. It was Kennedy who raised the possibility that the case be sent back to lower courts to allow lawyers to put in evidence about that capacity question.

Several things immediately seemed important about that suggestion.

First, it would allow the Court to avoid a decision about the validity of either part of the Texas law, if it should turn out that, at Friday’s planned discussion of the case in a private Conference, the initial vote came out split four to four (the late Justice Antonin Scalia was a fervent foe of abortions). Returning the case for gathering of new evidence would avoid that outcome — indeed, any immediate outcome — and thus would avoid the even division that settles nothing and always disappoints the Court. It might even put off the case until the current vacancy on the bench is filled with a new Justice.

Second, of equal or perhaps even greater importance, there may have been a logical basis for that suggestion and it could have been in Kennedy’s mind. If he had any inclination to uphold either or both of the provisions, Kennedy would understand that this would probably lead to a four-to-four tie. But taking that position would mean he had done so without knowing whether the capacity of the remaining clinics — nine or ten at most — would be enough to handle all abortions that would be sought in the state (recently, between 60,000 and 75,000 a year)? Thus Kennedy might hesitate even more to push the Court into a tie vote.

Third, Kennedy’s hesitation on taking a stand on the merits of the law seemed even more likely because of a question he asked later in the argument. He pressed the lawyer for Texas, state Solicitor General Scott A. Keller, on whether the enforcement of the two provisions would actually lead more women to have more abortions through surgery, by forcing them to wait, with more risk than having an earlier abortion through the use of drugs that induce termination of pregnancy (“medical abortion”).

Kennedy cited data that the number of drug-induced abortions had increased nationally, but the number in Texas was down, and he commented that “this may not be medically wise.” The abortion clinics and doctors who are challenging the Texas laws have made that prospect a part of their argument that the two provisions impose an unconstitutional burden on Texas women’s constitutional right to seek an abortion, and Kennedy appeared to have taken that seriously.

Returning the case to lower courts to get more evidence on the incidence of later abortions might be one way to deal with that prospect, but so would striking down the law — by a five-to-three vote — because of the negative consequences of inducing more mid-term abortions. Since Roe v. Wade, the Court (including Kennedy since he joined the bench) has always been more comfortable with earlier abortions, partly because they are safer but also because of a concern for protecting the developing life of the fetus. Kennedy was a key part of the Court’s compromise ruling in 1992 (Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey) when the Court expressed new support for state power to protect potential life, an interest that was said to increase the longer a pregnancy continues.

The Justices will cast at least a preliminary vote on the case when they assemble on Friday morning for a private Conference. If the case is going to be sent back to lower courts, or if the Court essentially gives up and casts a four-to-four vote, those outcomes might be announced quite soon, perhaps as early as next Monday. There is, of course, the possibility that more discussion would be necessary to sort out where the Court wants to go.

So basically, there’s a case for optimism, with the possibility of the law being struck down, and the possibility of it being sent back to the lower court for more hearings, while the injunction presumably stays in place. If the latter happens, then the issue could be revisited after a new justice is appointed, hopefully by President Clinton or Sanders. We may know quickly if that is going to happen, or we may not. Keep your fingers crossed. The WaPo, SCOTUSBlog, the Trib, and the Observer have more.

UPDATE: Still more, from Dahlia Lithwick, Alexa Garcia-Ditta, Genevieve Cato, and Jessica Mason Pieklo.

The Scalia effect on current cases

The Trib highlights a few cases pending before the Supreme Court that could be affected by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Antonin Scalia

Texas abortion law

On March 2, the court will hear oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which challenges Texas’ 2013 abortion law. Beyond deciding the constitutionality of a law that could shut down about half of the state’s 19 remaining abortion clinics, the Texas abortion case gives the Supreme Court an opportunity to clarify how far states can go in restricting abortion.

In 1992, the court ruled that states can impose abortion restrictions as long as they do not place an undue burden on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.

Lower courts across the country have disagreed, however, on what constitutes an “undue burden.” Activists on all sides are hoping the high court will provide a clearer definition in its decision in the Texas case. That case centers on the state’s requirement that abortion clinics meet hospital-like ambulatory surgical center standards — which include minimum sizes for rooms and doorways, pipelines for anesthesia and other modifications. In June, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals largely upheld the new abortion restrictions, saying the new law does not impose an undue burden on a majority of Texas women seeking abortions.

Justice Anthony Kennedy could be the swing vote. If he sides with the conservatives on the court, the resulting 4-4 tie would affirm the lower court ruling.

The lower court also granted the relatively remote Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen an exemption to some narrow elements of the ambulatory surgical center requirements and from a separate provision of the law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic.

Barring a tied vote, a decision in the Texas case could also determine the constitutionality of restrictions in place in other areas of the country. As of November, 10 states had adopted admitting privileges requirements, but courts blocked enforcement in six of those states, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Six states had enacted ambulatory surgical center standards on abortion facilities. Those restrictions were not in effect in two of those states.

Immigration

The high court also agreed to hear the state’s case against the Obama administration’s controversial executive action on immigration that was announced in November 2014.

Known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, the action would shield more than 4 million undocumented immigrants in the country from deportation proceedings and allow them to apply for three-year work permits. Lower courts have ruled to halt the policy three separate times.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in January but has yet to schedule arguments.

[…]

UT-Austin’s affirmative action policy

The death of Scalia cast uncertainty on many important cases before the Supreme Court, but probably won’t have a major impact on the decision in Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin, which is a case about the constitutionality of affirmative action.

Justice Anthony Kennedy is still the likely swing vote, just as he was before Scalia died.

Abigail Fisher, who is white, contends she was unconstitutionally denied admission into UT-Austin in 2008 because of her race. UT-Austin considers the race of a small portion of its applicants, and black and Hispanic students often get a slight advantage in that pool of admissions. If Fisher wins her case, UT-Austin might be unable to consider the race of its applicants in the future. A broad ruling against UT-Austin could even end affirmative action nationwide.

Scalia, a longtime opponent of affirmative action, was almost certain to vote against UT-Austin. He was in the dissent in Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003, when the Supreme Court upheld the practice of affirmative action in a limited way.

[…]

Redistricting

Finally, the justices heard arguments last year on a Texas case that questions a basic idea in American election law. In Evenwel v. Abbott, the plaintiffs argue that their voting power is diluted by the way Texas draws its state legislative districts, saying those lines should be based on the number of eligible voters in each district and not on population.

Congressional districts are based on population, as directed in the Constitution. The Evenwel case challenges Texas Senate district lines; a decision allowing states to use eligible voters as a base could shatter current lines here and in other states that want to make the change, remaking the distribution of power in state legislatures. That decision is pending.

The court has already accepted those four cases, among others, but doesn’t have to do anything this term if the justices decide to change course.

If the justices don’t want to rule on a case they’ve already accepted, they can announce it was “improvidently granted,” which means lower court ruling holds, [Sanford Levinson, a constitutional law expert at the University of Texas at Austin] said. They can hold over any unheard cases they want until they have a ninth colleague, and they can rehear oral arguments with a ninth colleague if they want to wait or they think a ruling with a four-person majority would be too controversial.

“It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if they hold over some stuff where time really isn’t of the essence,” Levinson said. “You can make this argument of the election case [Evenwel]. If they hold it over, the world won’t come to an end.”

There’s a lot of good commentary out there about What This All Means, at least in the short term – see Think Progress, SCOTUSBlog, and Rick Hasen, for example. The main point to keep in mind is that in any case where SCOTUS winds up splitting 4-4, the ruling of the lower court would stand. From my perspective, that’s a good thing in some cases – Friedrichs being one example, Evenwel being another – and not so good in others, specifically Whole Woman’s Health and the DAPA case. In addition, in some cases that kind of result could also mean a split in the appeals courts. There are plenty of abortion restriction lawsuits out there, over laws similar to what Texas passed, and a number of other federal courts have struck them down. It’s not hard to imagine at least one appeals court upholding the lower court on those rulings, thus making laws like Texas’ legal in some states but not in others. Texas’ law is currently on hold thanks to SCOTUS, so one way to avoid this problem would be for the Court to delay hearing the appeal until they’re back at full strength. Or maybe the good Anthony Kennedy will show up and Texas’ law will get struck down on a 5-3 vote. Let’s just say that John Roberts has a lot to think about and leave it at that.

One other thing: Justice Scalia’s death has revived the idea of term limits for Supreme Court justices, an idea that has fairly broad support. Ted Cruz is a proponent of the idea, though as is always the case with Cruz, he has bad reasons for doing so. I’m perfectly fine with the idea of limiting Justices to 18 years on the bench. It’ll take a Constitutional amendment, so the odds of it happening are infinitesimal. but if it gains momentum that will be okay by me. For what it’s worth, prior to Scalia’s death, there were five Justices who had already served more than 18 years, and three of them were appointed by Republican Presidents: Scalia, Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas, along with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Make of that what you will.

Two abortion stories

The amicus briefs are being filed in the HB2 case.

The Obama administration on Monday urged the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a Texas abortion law that has shuttered nearly half the clinics in the state, saying the Republican-backed regulations would harm rather than protect women’s health.

[…]

If allowed to take full effect, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli wrote, the law would close many more of the state’s clinics and force hundreds of thousands of Texas women to travel great distances if they seek to terminate pregnancies.

“Those requirements are unnecessary to protect – indeed, would harm – women’s health, and they would result in closure of three quarters of the abortion clinics in the state,” Verrilli wrote.

[…]

The Obama administration did not fully embrace the clinic challengers’ position, however.

The clinics that sued Texas, represented by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), say judges trying to determine whether a regulation unconstitutionally burdens a woman’s right to abortion should look at legislators’ purpose or motives.

In this case, CRR lawyers said, the state’s assertions of health concerns “are nothing more than a pretext for restricting access to abortion.”

Administration lawyers emphasized a judicial review tied to the effects of a law. That more nuanced stance might have been crafted to appeal to pivotal justice Anthony Kennedy, who in past cases has backed a fundamental right to abortion but has broken from his abortion-rights colleagues to endorse certain regulations.

Obama administration lawyers said the law’s requirements that clinics have hospital-grade facilities and clinic doctors obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital were unnecessary because abortions provided in Texas are safe and have produced a low rate of complications.

The hearing will take place on March 2. As the Trib reports, there have been 45 briefs filed so far in opposition to HB2. Many of them are aimed at Justice Anthony Kennedy since he is our supreme lord and master seen as the lone swing vote on this issue. That Presidential election later this year is looking pretty big, huh? The Chron, Think Progress, Daily Kos, and Newsdesk have more.

Of course, even a favorable outcome in this case won’t make abortion that much more accessible in Texas. The 2015 Legislature continued its assault on reproductive freedom, and as usual those who have the least ability to cope will bear the brunt of it.

Minors needing an abortion in Texas without parental consent have a new web of rules to navigate in 2016.

The Texas Supreme Court issued the rules in late December to implementHB 3994, the state’s newly passed judicial bypass law that governs the process for abused and neglected minors to obtain court approval to consent to an abortion.

The rules took effect January 1, imposing extensive restrictions for those minors seeking a judicial bypass for an abortion. Advocates claim such restrictions are unconstitutional.

“Judicial bypass protects vulnerable pregnant teens who cannot find or safely turn to a parent,” Tina Hester, executive director of Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit advocacy organization serving minors in need of reproductive health care, said in a statement following the release of the rules. “But the legislature and Governor Abbott decided to go after abused and neglected pregnant teens by amending this law.”

One of the most significant changes made to the judicial bypass process by HB 3994 is to remove the enforcement deadlines for the judge to rule on a minor’s request for an abortion. Advocates claim this provision effectively allows a judge to stall out a minor until they can no longer obtain a legal abortion.

“When a minor cannot even get a hearing or a court ruling in time, the state is then making her decision for her,” Susan Hays, legal counsel and a founding mother of Jane’s Due Process, said in a statement. “Such abuse of state power amounts to an ‘absolute veto’ of her decision and is under U.S. Supreme Court precedent unconstitutional.”

[…]

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the late 1970s that to be constitutional, a judicial bypass process must be anonymous, expeditious, and provide an effective opportunity for a minor to obtain an abortion. The new Texas requirements violate these requirements in a number of ways, advocates claim.

First, HB 3994 extends the time for a judge to rule on a minor’s request for a judicial bypass from two business days to five and declares a case denied if the judge does not rule within those five days. Advocates contend this requirement could have the harmful effect of pushing a minor into a more expensive procedure or past the legal limit for abortion, especially considering long clinic wait times since the passage of HB 2, Texas’ clinic-closure law.

The law requires minors to provide the judge considering the bypass their name, home address, and phone number, therefore erasing patient anonymity and confidentiality. HB 3994 also requires most minors to file their request for a bypass in their home county if its population is more than 10,000, including in cases of rape.

“How heartless for the law to have no exception for a rape survivor fearful of seeing her rapist at the courthouse,” Hays said.

Minors often pursue a judicial bypass for an abortion when parents are abusive, missing, deported, incarcerated, deceased, or drug dependent, according to advocates.

Advocates claim that many Texas courthouses are unwilling to assist minors in applying for bypass. A 2015 Jane’s Due Process survey of more than 80 Texas counties found that 81 percent of counties did not have immediate knowledge of the judicial bypass process and 37 percent of the counties denied entirely a teenager’s ability to file for a bypass.

The refusal rate was 58 percent in counties with fewer than 50,000 people.

See here, here, and here for the background. That’s our Legislature for you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Nothing will change until some people start losing elections over this stuff. I’m not holding my breath for that, but in the meantime it sure sounds like there will be more litigation in our future. The Trib, the Press, the Observer, the Chron, and Newsdesk have more.

Date set for SCOTUS HB2 arguments

Mark your calendars.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments about the constitutionality of Texas’ strict anti-abortion law on March 2, the justices announced Thursday, setting a date for a hotly anticipated fight that could affect women’s health policy across the country.

The scheduling puts the case on track for a ruling by the end of June, which had been expected when the justices announced last month that they would consider a challenge brought by abortion providers.

[…]

The current panel of Supreme Court justices never has weighed any abortion case together and has proven to be deeply divided on social issues, making it nearly impossible to predict how they will rule. Opponents of the law have taken heart in the fact that the justices put the surgical center requirement on hold last summer after it was upheld by the 5th Circuit, however.

The scheduling was not seen as an indication of the court’s feelings on the case.

One lawyer representing the abortion providers said his side was happy because the move would allow for the case to be resolved quickly.

“It’s a short time frame, but it gives us a chance to tell the justices that this law is a sham and sets the case up for a speedy resolution, so we’re very pleased,” said David Brown of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

See here for the background. I don’t know why they chose to release this news on Christmas Eve, but SCOTUS gonna SCOTUS. I dread the whole thing, but given that I’d rather get it over with quickly. TPM has more.

SCOTUS to hear HB2 appeal

Gird your loins.

Setting up what could be a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to take up a legal challenge to Texas’ 2013 abortion law, which could shut down about half of the state’s 19 remaining abortion clinics.

The restrictions, passed as part of House Bill 2, would require that Texas abortion facilities meet hospital-like ambulatory surgical center standards, including minimum sizes for rooms and doorways, pipelines for anesthesia, and other modifications. A separate provision, which has already gone into effect, requires doctors who perform the procedure to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic.

A coalition of abortion providers has sued the state, saying the restrictions are unconstitutional. State attorneys say the measure was passed to improve the safety of abortions and to ensure women are getting the highest standard of health care.

If the Supreme Court had declined to take up the case, half of the abortion clinics in the state would have been forced to shut down overnight. That would have left Texas with about 10 abortion clinics — all in major metropolitan areas.

The clinics will remain open until the court hears the case and issues a ruling. A decision is expected within the next year.

“Although this is the first step in a much longer process, I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will uphold the rights that have been in place for four decades and reaffirm that every woman should be able to make her own decision about continuing or ending a pregnancy,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, the lead plaintiff in the case.

See here, here, and here for the most recent updates. The stakes are as high as they can be, but for SCOTUS to not hear the appeal means the state wins by default, so there was no better option. We’re just going to have to live with that low-level dread until next June. ThinkProgress, the Observer, the AusChron, RH Reality Check, the Press, Daily Kos, the Current, and PDiddie have more.

State asks SCOTUS to not take up HB2 appeal

They win by default that way, so why would they want to have to take their chances?

Texas attorney general Ken Paxton on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to turn away a legal challenge to the state’s abortion restrictions filed by a coalition of abortion providers.

The abortion providers appealed to the high court almost a month ago, and justices have not yet decided whether to hear the case. In Monday’s filing, the state’s attorneys argued that a lower court was right in rejecting the challenge to abortion restrictions passed by the Texas Legislature in 2013, known as House Bill 2. They also said that the abortion providers’ request was too broad and cited a lack of evidence proving the restrictions unconstitutional.

[…]

In the AG’s brief filed with the high court, state attorneys argued that the abortion providers could not challenge the admitting privileges requirement beyond the exemptions for the two clinics on the border, because that provision of HB 2 has already been upheld by the courts in a separate lawsuit.

“[The abortion providers] wish to proceed as if their first lawsuit against HB 2 never happened,” the state attorneys wrote. “But they litigated that case to a final judgment, and arguments and evidence they chose not to present there are barred.”

See here for the background. Going to SCOTUS is a high-stakes gamble for abortion providers, but since doing nothing is a loss, what else is there to do? All we can do is wait and see if SCOTUS takes up the appeal. As for Paxton’s claim that HB2 does not place an undue burden on women seeking abortions, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that he’s wrong about that, even if the zealots on the Fifth Circuit refuse to accept it. Slate and RH Reality Check have more.