Undue Burden In Texas At Issue In Federal Court Opening arguments began Wednesday in the case against the Texas law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgery centers.


Undue Burden In Texas At Issue In Federal Court

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An abortion law passed by the Texas legislator is on trial today in a U.S. appeals court. The law requires that the state's abortion clinics have certain hospital-like settings for surgeries, among other restrictions. That part of the law has been on hold for the past year and a half as the factions have fought over it in court. Carrie Feibel of Houston Public Media was in the courtroom in New Orleans today and joins us now. And, Carrie, first tell us more about the law at issue here.

CARRIE FEIBEL, BYLINE: Well, this law passed about a year and a half ago in Texas. And as some may recall, it's the law that Democrat Wendy Davis tried to famously filibuster on the floor of the Texas senate, wearing her pink sneakers. She failed to stop that law. It did go into effect, but part of it was struck down in federal district court. And that brings us to today. The state has appealed. They want this part of the law to go into effect. And basically, it would require clinics that provide abortion to meet the same standards as outpatient surgery centers. Before the law passed, there were over 48 clinics providing abortion in Texas. Now we're down to about 17. Another 10 would have to close if this was upheld. So the overall argument here is that there would be so few clinics in Texas that can meet that standard that women would be denied access, unable to access their right to constitutionally get an abortion.

BLOCK: And that was at the heart of the arguments today in federal appeals court today?

FEIBEL: Yes. So the court heard arguments about the ambulatory surgery centers, what they require. These are outpatient places where you can get knee surgery, injections for back pain - that kind of thing. And there's many standards. They have to have certain hallway widths. They have to have certain equipment for general anesthesia. And abortion providers say, well, most abortions are relatively uncomplicated procedures, they don't even require general anesthesia or an incision, so these are very burdensome and expensive upgrades they would have to make. And that would basically drive a lot of them out of business.

BLOCK: And what was the argument from the state of Texas?

FEIBEL: Well, the state of Texas has always argued that this law is about safety. It's about making abortions safer for women and protecting woman. The Texas solicitor general today said, you know, the state does have an interest in regulating these clinics and if some of them have to close and women have to drive farther to get to the remaining clinics that do comply, well, women have always had to drive to get abortions in Texas - it's a big state, that's just always been part of it.

BLOCK: And, Carrie, what are the implications if these clinics do have to meet the standards in this law?

FEIBEL: Well, the clinics that don't meet the surgery center rules would have to close. And that would be about 10 clinics. And that would mean there wouldn't be any clinic left in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas and no clinic in El Paso and far west Texas. So those women would have to drive hundreds of miles roundtrip to get an abortion in one of the big cities like San Antonio. But the legal question here is that an undue burden for women? The Supreme Court has said states can regulate abortion, but they can't do it so much that there's an undue burden in a woman being able to obtain a legal abortion. But the question is how many miles is an undue burden? And there were women outside the court today from the south Texas region. And they were saying it's not just about driving distance, it's about the time they would need to take off from work. It's about the need to get daycare. It's about the need for some of them, if they don't have legal documents, would they even be about to get past some immigration checkpoints on the highway to San Antonio. So there's lots of considerations that go into unto burden. So if those clinics do have to close, if this part of the law is upheld, those clinics say they would appeal to the Supreme Court for some relief.

BLOCK: Carrie Feibel of Houston Public Media. Carrie, thanks very much.

FEIBEL: Thanks, Melissa.

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