Fight over Texas abortion law continues

Posted Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Barbara Clarkin paced back and forth before a Planned Parenthood clinic Tuesday afternoon, carrying rosary beads and offering up prayers for women who might consider having abortions.

Her prayers came in the wake of a court ruling Monday that at least temporarily derailed the part of the new Texas abortion law that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital less than 30 miles away from them, a rule that would have essentially shuttered about one third of Texas’ abortion clinics.

“I’m praying people will realize the sanctity of life,” said Clarkin, an 83-year-old Fort Worth woman participating in 40 Days for Life, a growing effort to stop abortions.

“This is the area,” she said gesturing toward the clinic on the southwest side of the city, “where we hope life won’t end.”

People on both sides of the argument — those who, like Clarkin, hope the full law is ultimately reinstated, and others, such as Planned Parenthood officials, who are fighting to keep abortion clinics open for women who need or want that option — are gearing up for a long, difficult fight in Fort Worth and in cities across the state.

If it hadn’t been for Monday’s ruling, some clinics, such as Whole Woman’s Health in Fort Worth, San Antonio and McAllen, would have had to close their doors Tuesday.

“It has been so intense,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO and founder of Whole Woman’s Health, said in a statement. “These laws affect real people. ... Women’s lives are at stake.

“Our rights to equality and autonomy are getting shipped away one restriction at a time. But this week, we have a judge who understands that these restrictions place an undue burden on women,” she said. “And we are so thankful to remain open.”

Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers filed a lawsuit to stop provisions of the measure from going into effect.

After Monday’s ruling, in which a federal judge said some of the new restrictions put an unconstitutional burden on women, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, filed an appeal with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

“As everyone — including the trial court judge — has acknowledged, this is a matter that will ultimately be resolved by the appellate courts or the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general’s office.

No local providers?

Without the court ruling, no clinics in Tarrant County would be able to provide abortions, said Danielle Wells, assistant director for media relations and communications for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, which covers 77 counties in Texas.

“All of the providers in Tarrant County would have ceased providing abortions if this had gone into effect and more than a dozen providers across the state would stop,” she said. “There would not be one provider west of I-35.”

That would include the new Planned Parenthood Southwest Fort Worth Health Center, a $6.5 million facility privately funded by North Texans, which would have remained open but would have been unable to perform abortions, Wells said.

Work began years ago to raise money for this licensed ambulatory surgical center, which provides services including family planning and abortions.

“Three of our physicians have admitting abilities at hospitals in Dallas,” she said. “But the law requires it to be within 30 miles. And our three physicians are just over 30 miles (from their hospital). That’s how arbitrary and medically unnecessary these measures are.

“This admitting restriction does nothing to protect the health and safety of Texas women,” she said. “In the months ahead, we will continue to do everything we can to protect the health of Texas women.”

Walter Saener, an 86-year-old Fort Worth man, was among those maintaining a presence outside the clinic Tuesday, as part of the 40 Days for Life effort.

On Tuesday, he carried a sign that read, “Pray to End Abortion.”

“I think they shouldn’t be [getting abortions],” Saener said. “It doesn’t seem right.”

‘A long, hard fight’

Abortion became a hot-button issue earlier this year when the GOP-led state legislature tried to pass the comprehensive abortion law — which still bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and requires procedures to be performed at ambulatory surgical centers — and state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, gained national fame and notoriety during a June filibuster of the bill.

After more than 11 hours of speaking, Republicans stopped the filibuster, but ultimately, deafening noise and chaos erupted in the gallery, preventing legislators from knowing whether the measure had passed. The bill died that night but passed weeks later during another special session.

Davis, who has since begun a gubernatorial campaign, said this week that she fought the bill because she feared women wouldn’t have access to adequate healthcare.

“The concern I had about the bill was that so many clinics across the state would be closed,” she said. “We know there are clinics across the state that won’t be able to meet those ambulatory service requirements, that won’t be able to have the doctor with admitting privileges within 30 miles.

“The fear, of course, is that women will be forced to explore other alternatives for care … that may endanger their safety,” she said. “I firmly believe … that women now will be jeopardized, their health will be jeopardized.”

Those who fought for years for the measure to become law disagree and say they hope Abbott is successful in protecting the lives of both women and their unborn babies.

“Women are in harm’s way,” said Kyleen Wright of Mansfield, president of the Texans for Life Coalition, which opposes abortion. “They are still subject to the quack doctors.”

Wright said she and others fought to specifically add the provision requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals in an effort to weed out bad doctors.

“We knew when we signed on that this would be a long, hard fight,” she said. “The abortion industry has a lot on the line and they are fighting hard to protect themselves. Unfortunately, they aren’t fighting for women.”

Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley

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