For years, anti-abortion legislators in Texas have introduced and passed legislation to restrict abortion access across the state. In response, abortion rights groups representing various regions across the state have filed a lawsuit to strike down existing abortion restrictions.
“The People’s Lawsuit,” as advocates have dubbed, was filed on June 14 in Austin. The name alludes to “The People’s Fillibuster” from 2013 when Texas State Senator Wendy Davis led an almost 11-hour filibuster against a bill that would force almost all abortion clinics in Texas to shut down.
Members of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, The Afiya Center, Fund Texas Choice, Lilith Fund, Texas Equal Access Fund, and West Fund were represented by The Lawyering Project as they stood in federal court to dispute state laws that create insurmountable barriers to abortion services. The lawsuit addresses long-standing legislation in five categories, including Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws and laws inhibiting telemedicine options for abortion care.
One can look as far back as the Hyde Amendment, made law in 1976, or as recently as Texas House Bill 2 (HB2) in 2016, for prominent examples of restrictions that affect poor women and people of color directly. Although the People’s Lawsuit doesn’t address the Hyde Amendment directly, it’s important to remember that when Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican, introduced the provision that would bar federal funds from being used for abortion services, he stood on the House floor and said:
“I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Departments of Labor, Health, Education, and Welfare] Medicaid bill.”
Soon after, Hyde’s wish certainly did come true, unfortunately, for one woman in the Rio Grande Valley. Rosie Jimenez was successfully prevented from getting a safe, legal abortion in September of 1977. The cost of abortion without Medicaid coverage was prohibitive, and rather than use her financial aid check for clinical services, Jimenez sought an abortion with a local midwife in McAllen. After fighting an infection for seven days, Jimenez died of organ failure at McAllen General Hospital. She was survived by her four-year-old daughter.
The summer after Jimenez’s death, President Carter, a liberal Democrat, said of abortion during a presidential news conference:
“Well, as you know, there are many things in life that are not fair, that wealthy people can afford and poor people can’t. But I don’t believe that the Federal Government should take action to try to make these opportunities exactly equal, particularly when there is a moral factor involved.”
These sentiments were a green light for anti-choice legislators— if they ever needed one.
Today, according to the Guttmacher Institute, only 17 states have a policy that directs Medicaid to pay for “medically necessary abortions.” Elective abortions, of course, are still only available to wealthy people who can afford it. Furthermore, H.R. 7, which has passed in the House, threatens even those few whose private insurance covers elective abortion at an affordable rate; the law would bar any Affordable Care Act insurance plans that cover abortion services from receiving government subsidies. The pro-choice bill countering this legislation is the EACH Woman Act.
In response, under a virulently anti-choice administration, the People’s Lawsuit is standing up to existing regulations that conservative legislators want the US public to accept as immovable. The lawsuit is supported and endorsed by a coalition of organizations around Texas and the US, including Neta and the Rio Grande Valley’s abortion fund, Frontera Fund.
The five categories of regulations addressed in the People’s Lawsuit are:
1) Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws. The most recent examples in Texas are the provisions in HB2 that required all abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers and for those centers to have admitting privileges with nearby hospitals.
When enacted, the provisions shut down more than half of Texas’s abortion clinics, some of which never reopened even when HB2 was struck down by the Supreme Court. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, these targeted regulations actually “increase the cost and scarcity of abortion services, harming women’s health and inhibiting their reproductive choices.”
2) Laws that disregard scientific advancement about non-surgical abortion and also limit the use of telemedicine to administer abortion medicine remotely.
3) Mandates that require doctors to lie to patients using medically inaccurate information that shames patients, or unnecessarily delay procedures. For example, A Woman’s Right to Know booklets, state-mandated reading for abortion patients, contain highly contested, nonmedical language, some of which has been found by medical experts to be unequivocally wrong. The misinformation is presented in a way that makes abortion seem dangerous and unnecessary, all while using cissexist notions of who may need an abortion.
4) Laws that force parental and judicial involvement with minors’ abortions. These laws further stigmatize abortion, remove bodily autonomy, and put minors in harm’s way, especially when pregnancies are a result of abuse.
5) Laws that criminalize abortion providers. Many states see yearly attempts to extend “personhood” rights to embryos or fetuses. Laws like this would classify abortion as a homicide and wreak a slew of unnecessary and bizarre damages, not only for abortion providers and their patients, but in fertility clinics and emergency rooms. The Sanctity of Human Life Act is one such piece of congressional legislation whose latest introduction to the House floor was submitted by 21 men in January 2017.
Anti-choice advocates will continue to push legislation that limits abortion in Texas and around the country, and, unfortunately, Justice Kennedy’s retirement means the Supreme Court is ripe for the conservative picking. That’s why the People’s Lawsuit, which was filed before any Supreme Court shakeup was announced, is more relevant than ever.