Abortion advocates in Texas fighting uphill battle on multiple fronts

With the race for governor now set in Texas, abortion advocates are rallying support against the controversial abortion ban that was enacted in September. Senate Bill 8 has so far withstood multiple legal challenges from pro-choice advocates, including a recent ruling by the Texas Supreme Court that  was considered to be the final defeat for abortion clinics practicing in the state.

 

 

Yet back in February, an anti-abortion group filed a petition in state court to depose leaders from the Texas Equal Access (TEA) Fund and the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity to ascertain if these groups violated the law by subsidizing procedures on women past six weeks of pregnancy. Because lawyers seeking the deposition specifically targeted these two groups in court and on social media, both abortion funds can hold the petitioners to account in federal lawsuits, which were filed earlier this month.

The TEA Fund and Lilith Fund filed complaints against the America First Legal Foundation in a Washington D.C. federal court and the Thomas More Society in an Illinois federal court. The funds also filed complaints against two individuals in the petition, Sadie Weldon and Ashley Maxwell, in two different Texas district courts.

Abortion advocates are hoping for more favorable outcomes than the Texas Supreme Court rulings. Legal experts point to the locations where the federal cases were filed being more favorable to challenging the law. The federal courts could declare the ban unconstitutional and prevent Texas officials from enforcing it.

Texas is one of 13 states with “trigger” laws in place, which would automatically ban all abortions in the event Roe vs. Wade is overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court. Texas Republicans also passed legislation in March 2021 to remove Planned Parenthood from the state’s Medicaid program.

Planned Parenthood was removed as a Medicaid provider after lawmakers falsely claimed the organization was selling fetal tissue, which it donates for research and other legal applications. Texas Democrats have formally requested that the Biden administration enforce the federal Medicaid provision that allows benefactors to access family planning services from any qualified provider.

Under those provisions, federal Medicaid funding cannot be withheld from Planned Parenthood or block recipients from accessing Planned Parenthood health centers. Planned Parenthood was providing abortion care to some 8,000 Medicare patients in Texas prior to being shut down.

In response to Republican efforts around the country, Democratic states like Colorado and California are pledging to protect abortion rights and offer sanctuary to abortion seekers from out of state.

Republicans have introduced measures to punish those seeking to travel out of state including one Texas bill that could allow the death penalty for women who receive abortions. Already a hot topic in one of the state’s Republican primaries, the abortion battle is a political lightning rod for candidates and voters alike in the upcoming midterms.

Planned Parenthood recently received a record $275 million donation from billionaire MacKenzie Scott, funding officials say is vital to support women facing legal obstacles to abortion.

“We are humbled by Ms. Scott’s support of Planned Parenthood’s work, our expertise, our deep and trusted connections with communities, and the important role we play in the public health and sexual and reproductive health care infrastructure,” said Melaney Linton, president and chief executive officer of PPCG in a press release. “This gift is a testament to the very strong health care network that the Planned Parenthood federation and its affiliate health care network provides to its patients all over the country.” 

In 2019, Planned Parenthood opened an 18,000-square-foot facility in Fairview Heights, Illinois where it has provided abortion care to more than 10,000 Missouri residents who traveled to Illinois for the procedure. Missouri has one the lowest abortion rates in the country due to severe restrictions like a 72-hour waiting period and unnecessary certification requirements for doctors who perform the procedure. Missouri has also introduced a measure that would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a local resident cross state lines for abortion care.

The organization points to efforts in Illinois as a service benchmark off of which other pro-choice states can model their abortion policies. According to 2019 figures, Texas had the highest number of abortions among trigger law states at 57,225. The potential outflow of patients to other nearby states could overwhelm the region’s health systems and endanger women.