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Tuesday, September 2, 2014 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: As Jury Takes Up Blackwater Massacre in Nisoor Square, a...
2014-09-02

Women’s Health over Politics: Courts Block Laws Threatening Abortion Clinics in Texas, Louisiana

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Over the past three days, federal judges have blocked a pair of new laws that could have closed most of the 19 abortion clinics in Texas and all five of the facilities in Louisiana. On Friday, a federal judge blocked a Texas law due to take effect Monday that would have required all abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospital-style surgery centers — even those that offer non-surgical abortions with medication, and simple early surgical abortions. Last year, the controversial rule drew mass protest and an 11-hour filibuster by State Senator Wendy Davis, who is now running for governor. Meanwhile on Sunday, a federal judge in Louisiana issued a temporary restraining order just hours before a new abortion law would have begun forcing physicians who provide abortion services to have patient-admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their practice. We are joined by Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates five Texas clinics and was a party in this lawsuit.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to major developments in women’s access to abortion. Over the past three days, federal judges have blocked a pair of new laws that could have forced the closing of the majority of Texas’s 19 abortion clinics and all five of Louisiana’s. On Friday, a federal judge blocked a Texas law due to go into effect Monday that would have required all abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospital-style surgery centers—even those that offer non-surgical abortions with medication, and simple early surgical abortions. Texas already requires clinics that provide abortions after 16 weeks of pregnancy to meet surgical-center standards.

Last [year], the controversial rule drew mass protest and an 11-hour filibuster by State Senator Wendy Davis, who is now running for governor. Judge Lee Yeakel of the U.S. District Court in Austin ruled the new mandate would place unjustified obstacles on women’s access to abortion without providing significant medical benefits.

Meanwhile Sunday, a federal judge in Louisiana issued a temporary restraining order just hours before a new abortion law would have begun forcing physicians who provide abortion services to have patient-admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their practice. This relates to another portion of the ruling in Texas. Judge Yeakel wrote two abortion clinics in the state’s isolated Rio Grande Valley—one in El Paso, another in McAllen—could be excused from an admitting privileges requirement already on the books in Texas.

For more, we’re joined by the CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates the McAllen clinic along with four other clinics and was a party in this lawsuit. Amy Hagstrom Miller has been working in abortion care since 1989 and is the founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health. She joins us now from Charlottesville, Virginia, on the campus of University of Virginia.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Amy. Can you start off by talking about the significance of both of these rulings?

AMY HAGSTROM MILLER: Absolutely. Friday was just a very significant day for us. It’s been a long fight, and it’s been a long year, just since HB 2 was passed over a year ago. But really we’ve seen this cumulative effect over the last 10 years, with a new restriction passed, making access to safe, professional care more and more difficult for women in states like Texas and Louisiana. And so, Judge Yeakel’s decision was a strong decision. He outlined a lot of the things that we’ve been talking about, about an undue burden for women, and specifically women of color and women in rural areas throughout the South who have even higher burdens than those of us who live in the urban areas. And so, his decision was very clear, and we’re very optimistic that the courts are starting to see that these restrictions have nothing to do with women’s safety but are about politics.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we move on to the case in Louisiana, explain exactly what the law would have required and what Judge Yeakel said he would put on hold.

AMY HAGSTROM MILLER: So, there’s four different provisions in the law that was passed a year and a half ago. The most highly covered and the most restrictive are the hospital admitting privileges and the requirement that all procedures, even, as you said, medication abortion procedures and very simple first trimester procedures, be done in basically a mini-hospital, an ambulatory surgical center. That is the part of the law that was set to go into effect yesterday that Judge Yeakel blocked on Friday. The admitting privileges, part of the regulation went into effect last November, and we brought another case challenging that also in Yeakel’s court. And that case is in the Fifth Circuit right now. We’ve asked for an en banc decision. There were two other provisions of HB 2, one restricting abortion care beyond 20 weeks and, two, basically making medication abortion almost unavailable to most women by requiring women to come in for four different visits with the same physician. So all four of those provisions are part of HB 2, and they combine to create an almost impossible environment for, one, abortion providers to stay open and serve the women in the communities and, two, for women to actually be able to travel and make it to a safe, professional provider in the state.

AMY GOODMAN: Some might say, "Well, what is wrong with having a clinic that is, you know, hospital-level?" and the other, "Why not have doctors have admitting privileges at local hospitals?" What are the problems with these?

AMY HAGSTROM MILLER: You know, two different things. One is that there wasn’t a safety problem with abortion care in the state of Texas that these laws were addressing. Abortion has been safely provided for over 40 years in the state in small, sort of doctor’s office-based settings. Abortion, while it is morally and ethically complex for a lot of people, medically it’s quite a simple procedure. There are no incisions. The procedure itself takes five or six minutes. And it’s very adequately and safely provided in a doctor’s office or clinic setting. So this mini-hospital setting that requires hallway widths and airflow systems and, you know, sort of a much more intricate and involved physical plant is really designed for much more invasive and complicated surgeries, like knee surgery or eye surgery or surgeries that take three or four hours with general anesthesia, which is just not the complexity of abortion. And so, herein lies the problem, is that the actual cost to build one of those facilities is out of reach for the vast majority of us who serve the women who need abortion care in the state.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about—

AMY HAGSTROM MILLER: Secondarily—

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, go ahead.

AMY HAGSTROM MILLER: Oh, sorry. Secondarily, the admitting privileges is another interesting thing. You know, this is the only procedure that requires admitting privileges for physicians. The vast majority of our medical system is delivered outside of that sort of surgical hospital setting. There are many physicians who have private practices in their offices where they’re doing minor procedures in their practice, and they’re not bringing surgeries into the hospital setting. It’s complicated to explain really quickly, but hospital admitting privileges are a relationship between the hospital and a doctor that require the physician to admit a certain amount of patients annually, and most abortion providers may admit one or two patients in a span of 10 years. And so, this requirement, it doesn’t actually have to do with safety, it has to do with access.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your clinic in McAllen, what Judge Yeakel’s decision in Texas means for the women’s abortion clinic there?

AMY HAGSTROM MILLER: Yes. We are making plans to reopen our McAllen clinic. It has been on Main Street right across from City Hall in the city of McAllen for years. Women have been calling us. Whether or not the clinic is open, the women in the community still need the care. And so, we’ve been managing trying to help women travel north and help women manage their healthcare in the absence of our ability to provide it. And so, we’re delighted to be able to reopen the facility later this week. We’re making plans trying to reach out to our staff and our physicians, and try to set up a surgical session as soon as possible. The phone has been ringing the whole time, even when we’ve been closed, and we’ve been trying to help those women. And so, right when the law was enjoined this past Friday, we began to call some of the women who had called us earlier that week and, you know, telling them that later this week we hope to be able to actually see them locally in the McAllen clinic again.

AMY GOODMAN: And the number of clinics that have closed since the law was passed and how many you see might open like yours?

AMY HAGSTROM MILLER: So, in 2012, there were 44 facilities serving the population in the state of Texas. That’s dropped to 19 at this point. And if the law hadn’t been enjoined, we would drop again to six. With this injunction, there are many of us that will be able to either stay open, like my Austin office—I mean, my Fort Worth office and my San Antonio office. And there—my McAllen office will be able to reopen. And there will probably be other providers that are able to reopen their facilities. Hopefully, our Austin office and our Beaumont clinic, that we had to close earlier this year, we’re looking at reopening them, as well. I think the majority of us in the state, especially those of us that are community-based, independent providers, are really watching closely to the Fifth Circuit. As you know, the state challenged Judge Yeakel’s injunction within about 30 minutes of him issuing it and has challenged it already to the Fifth Circuit. So we’re watching fairly closely to see what’s going to happen next for us.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, we only have—well, we have less than a minute, but talk about the decision that came out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

AMY HAGSTROM MILLER: So, it’s my understanding that that—you know, I’m not an expert in Louisiana like I am in Texas, but it’s my understanding that that decision also blocked a very restrictive law from going into effect that would have taken that state’s clinics from five down to just two, which is completely inadequate to serve the needs of the women in that community and throughout that state.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Amy Hagstrom Miller, I want to thank you very much for being with us, working in abortion care since 1989—

AMY HAGSTROM MILLER: You’re welcome.

AMY GOODMAN: —founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health. This is Democracy Now! When we return, the jurors are out in the Blackwater case, the killing of 14 civilians in Nisoor Square in 2007. We’ll bring you the voice of the father of the youngest victim. Stay with us.

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