Planned Parenthood Sues Texas Over Abortion Law - U.S. Fifth Circuit
U.S. Fifth Circuit - The FindLaw 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Planned Parenthood Sues Texas Over Abortion Law

Planned Parenthood challenged Texas' new abortion law in federal court on Friday, amidst worries that the regulations drastically reduce access to safe abortions.

Reuters reports that Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and other groups joined to oppose Texas legislation that required doctors to have "admitting privileges" at a local hospital as well as directly supervise administration of the RU-486 "abortion pill."

Is Texas' Abortion Law Unconstitutional?

In 2012, the Fifth Circuit ruled that Texas had the power to block funds from the Women's Health Program from going to any clinic that offered women abortion services, and that this power was not in conflict with women's constitutional rights.

Planned Parenthood's lawsuit alleges that Texas' new law, which was passed even after a rousing filibuster by Texas Senator Wendy Davis, imposes even more legislative barriers to women's access to safe, properly staffed abortion clinics.

The Washington Post reported that the Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, Jennifer Dalven, said Friday that the Texas law is intended "to make it impossible for women in Texas to get an abortion."

If the law doesn't meet the Casey standard and presents an undue burden to women's right to abortions, then the regulations won't stand. Historically, however, the courts have rarely found abortion legislation to produce an undue burden -- like with Texas' pre-abortion ultrasound law.

Vagueness in the Law

The Planned Parenthood complaint challenges Section 2 and Section 3 of the newly passed Texas abortion law, claiming that these laws not only present undue burdens but are also unconstitutionally vague.

In terms of vagueness, the complaint alleges that Section 2 requires medical professionals who perform abortions to have "active admitting privileges" at a local hospital, but gives no guidance on how these privileges are defined.

Section 3, the lawsuit claims, has similar vagueness problems since it requires doctors to abide by "the dosage amount [of RU-486] prescribed by the clinic management guidelines defined by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Practice Bulletin." As the complaint points out, these guidelines do not prescribe any "dosage amount" for RU-486, they only discuss ranges of dosage, effectiveness, and side effects.

The Fifth Circuit will certainly have its hands full untangling this morass of regulations, and we may look to the Ninth Circuit's recent striking of a similar Arizona abortion law as instructive.

According to The Dallas Morning News, a hearing date has been set in Austin for October 21, one week before the law goes into effect.

Bottom Line

The vagueness issues are plaguing, but easy to sidestep. If these restrictions really make abortion an impossibility for some Texas women, this may be an undue burden case.

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