AUSTIN, Texas — A group of Texas abortion clinics and nonprofits filed a sweeping lawsuit against the state Thursday challenging dozens of abortion laws, some of which were passed at least two decades ago.
The move led by the Whole Woman’s Health Alliance comes two years after the abortion provider successfully challenged two provisions of a Texas abortion law at the Supreme Court. The decision marked the most significant abortion rights ruling in a generation and paved the way for groups to challenge abortion laws in other states.
The latest lawsuit argues that other Texas abortion limits, such as specific licensing standards for abortion clinics and waiting periods for patients, pose an undue burden on a woman’s right to have an abortion and threaten access to the procedure in the state.
"We were able to leverage that new standard and use it to take a look historically at all of laws that have been on the books for some time that cannot stand now," said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health. "It’s never been done before because we never had a win before like the one we had two years ago."
Previous challenges have focused on a single law or restriction. This time, Whole Woman’s Health and the Lawyering Project, which is representing the organization, spent more than a year looking at various Texas abortion laws to determine which ones to challenge.
"Internally, I’ve been calling it the ‘big fix,’" said Miller.
Miller said that the plaintiffs wanted to file the suit while the five Supreme Court justices who formed the majority in the 2016 decision are still on the bench. But it’s unclear how long the suit will proceed through lower courts. A judge could opt to call separate trials on different categories of restrictions. And the state of Texas is likely to aggressively fight the challenge.
The suit, filed in the Western District of Texas, comes amid a revived national debate over abortion rights, with the Trump administration and conservative states seeking new measures to limit the procedure.
Federal courts are weighing challenges to early abortion bans imposed by conservative states such as Mississippi and Iowa. The courts have also temporarily blocked Texas laws requiring the burial or cremation of fetal remains and struck down a Texas ban on a common second-trimester abortion procedure, which was passed along with other abortion restrictions during a special legislative session last summer.
The new litigation does not attempt to take down Texas’ ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy — a provision that is in conflict with Supreme Court precedent that states cannot prohibit abortion before a fetus is viable outside of the womb, which is about 24 weeks. The Supreme Court has declined to review similar laws in the past, and in some cases abortion rights supporters have been skeptical about inviting the court to revisit the Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion, when the vast majority of abortions happen well before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The restrictions being challenged in the new suit include: a 16-week ban on abortions in a clinic setting, requirements that a woman must wait 24 hours after an initial abortion consultation to receive the procedure and receive an ultrasound, abortion reporting requirements, a ban on handling abortion consultations through telemedicine, a parental consent requirement for minors who want to have the procedure and state limits on abortion funding.
“Texas laws regulating abortion have proliferated over time,” the plaintiffs argue. “Abortion patients and providers now face a dizzying array of medically unnecessary requirements that are difficult, time-consuming, and costly to navigate — sometimes prohibitively so.”
The suit contends that the laws are keeping more abortion clinics from opening and forcing existing ones to close, which disproportionately affects rural and low-income residents who must travel to major cities and wait overnight before obtaining the procedure.
The 2013 restrictions passed by Texas had forced more than half of the abortion clinics in the state to close before they were overturned by the Supreme Court two years ago.
After the decision, Whole Woman’s Health reopened its Austin clinic and Planned Parenthood resumed abortion services at its Waco clinic.