Last legislative session, House Bill 2 proved to be a landmark moment for the abortion debate in Texas. It further politicized the issue both sides of the aisle, garnered national media attention, boosted political profiles and launched campaigns.
When the debate was over and it finally passed, HB 2 established a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, required clinics to be certified as ambulatory surgical centers, and forced abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of Gov. Rick Perry signing the bill into law.
Supporters of the law acknowledge that those closures limit abortions, but also ensure that abortions are safe. Opponents say the law is an undue burden – an unnecessary hurdle that hinders a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. A year later, in campaigns and courtrooms, the bill is still hotly contested across Texas.
Before the law was signed, there were 41 abortion facilities in Texas. By September, when a portion of the law requiring all abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers goes into effect, there will be six open with two more currently being built. And all of them are located in the state's major metropolitan areas. Abortion rights supporters say those numbers alone explain how difficult it is for a woman to have access to a legal abortion.
Doctor Daniel Grossman is with Ibis Reproductive Health and has been studying the effects of the law in Texas. "When the clinics in McAllen and Harlingen stopped providing abortion care in November, women living in the lower Rio Grande Valley had to travel 150 miles each way to Corpus Christi to the nearest clinic," Grossman says. "And that clinic has since closed, making San Antonio the nearest alternative, about 250 miles from the Valley. And, if a woman wanted medical abortion, she would have to make that journey three times."
Supporters of the law say those closures limit abortions, but also ensure a patient's medical safety. But Amy Hagstrom Miller of Whole Women's Health says the claims of patient safety driving this law aren't true. Before the law went into effect, her group ran five abortion clinics and one ambulatory surgical center. They've had to close two of them so far, and this fall they'll close more. Whole Woman's Health is challenging the law with a suit that will see court in August.
"We're challenging two different things in this lawsuit," Miller says. "One, the requirement that all abortion care must be provided in the ambulatory surgical center setting. And, secondarily, we're taking a second pass at challenging the admitting privileges requirement, making the argument that the law as applied disproportionately affects women in the Rio Grande Valley."
A separate lawsuit, attempting to block the hospital admitting privileges section of the law, is being appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court. The abortion law is a key point in multiple campaigns for the November elections. From the race for Governor, with Wendy Davis launching her political career by filibustering an abortion bill, to down-ballot races for offices that have little to nothing to do with abortion policy.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said there were only six abortion clinics open in Texas. There will only be six clinics that meet ambulatory surgical center requirements, which go into affect in September. That will close all other clinics currently operating that do not meet those requirements.