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Federal Judge Hears Planned Parenthood Lawsuit

Yesterday marked the beginning of deliberations for the infamous lawsuit filed by Planned Parentood that attempts to loosen some of the strictest abortion regulations in the nation. The case is Planned Parenthood v. Abbott, and is in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. District Judge Lee Yeakel is currently presiding over the case. Unless Judge Yeakel blocks the law from going into effect it is estimated that a third of all health centers that currently offer abortion care in Texas will be forced to stop providing abortions, and the health of millions of Texas women will suffer. 

Judge Lee Yeakel is also known as Judge Earl Leory Yeakel III and was appointed to the bench by President Bush in 2003. Currently no judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas has been appointed by President Obama. This is because the President cannot appoint any judges in a particular state without recommendations from the state's senators. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn have given absolutely no recommendations to fill the seven vacancies that exist on the Federal Bench in Texas. Currently there are 45 male judges and only 14 female judges in all the U.S. District Courts in Texas.

Now, the only option for stopping the this egregious abortion law is our federal courts, which means the decision of whether to protect the health of Texas women now lies with one man - Judge Earl Leory Yeakel III. 

Planned Parenthood released this statement regarding the lawsuit: 

TODAY: Planned Parenthood in Court to Protect Texas Women's Health 
Planned Parenthood Asks Court to Permanently Block Dangerous and Deeply Unpopular Restrictions

AUSTIN, TX - Planned Parenthood abortion providers, along with a group of other Texas abortion providers and physicians, are in federal court today to request a permanent injunction that would block two harmful and unconstitutional provisions of a recently enacted, deeply unpopular law that is projected to prevent one in three women in Texas from accessing a safe and legal abortion if allowed to go into effect on October 29.

The women's health care providers have asked the Court to permanently enjoin a requirement that physicians who provide abortion must obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, which rather than providing medical benefits to women will instead deny many of them access to safe care.  This restriction is expected to force more than a dozen of the state's licensed health centers that provide safe, legal abortion today to stop providing that procedure at the end of the month.  It would completely eliminate access to abortion in vast stretches of Texas, including the cities of Fort Worth, Harlingen, Lubbock, Waco, McAllen, and Killeen.

In addition, the women's health care providers are asking the court to permanently strike restrictions on the use of medication abortion, a safe and effective method to end an early pregnancy that roughly half of women seeking a safe and legal abortion in Texas decide to have if they are eligible.

Statement from Ken S. Lambrecht, President & CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas:

"We are in court today to protect the health of Texas women by keeping abortion safe and legal in the state. This law threatens the health, and violates the constitutional rights, of Texas women who have made the complex and deeply personal decision to end a pregnancy.

"Medical experts in Texas and across the country oppose these harmful and medically unnecessary restrictions because they do nothing to protect the health and safety of women.  Just the opposite - these restrictions will harm women's health by forcing licensed women's health care providers to stop providing safe and legal abortion.

"Texas women are already suffering due to cruel and politically motivated attacks on access to lifesaving cancer screenings and birth control.  We will continue to do everything possible to protect the health of the women and families who depend on us.  Planned Parenthood has been in Texas for more than 75 years, and we aren't going anywhere."

The lawsuit, Planned Parenthood v. Abbott, was jointly filed by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Texas firm George Brothers Kincaid & Horton.  Among the plaintiffs who filed suit on behalf of their patients are Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Services, Planned Parenthood Center for Choice, Planned Parenthood Sexual Healthcare Services and Planned Parenthood Women's Health Center.

BACKGROUND

The provisions challenged in court today are part of a package of legislation which was signed by Governor Rick Perry on July 18 following a series of special legislative sessions, but was opposed by 80 percent of Texas voters, according to a poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.  The law contains a separate provision, not a part of today's suit, that requires every health center providing abortion services to meet stringent, medically unnecessary building standards - such as the specific hallway widths and the flooring and outfitting of janitors' closets - by September 2014.

Medical experts in Texas and across the country, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Texas Medical Association, and Texas Hospital Association, publicly opposed provisions in the law because they provide no medical benefit to women and will actually jeopardize women's health and safety.  

The law's requirement that abortion providers obtain hospital admitting privileges could cause at least one-third of the state's licensed health centers providing safe and legal abortion today to stop providing that service next week.  It would completely eliminate access to safe and legal abortion in vast stretches of Texas including the cities of Fort Worth, Harlingen, Killeen, Lubbock, McAllen, and Waco.

The law would also force doctors to go against years of research and their practical experience by requiring their patients to follow an inferior, outdated, and less effective protocol for medication abortion.  It would impose unnecessary burdens on women who choose this method and completely deny others the opportunity to consider this safe way to end an early pregnancy.

Courts have blocked similar provisions in other states across the country. Hospital admitting privileges requirements aimed at shutting down all or most of the abortion providers in Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Wisconsin have been halted before they took effect. State courts in North Dakota and Oklahoma have permanently struck down unconstitutional restrictions on medication abortion.

More than 130,000 women have been forced to go without preventive health care, including cancer screenings and birth control, since the 2011 Texas Legislature slashed funding for women's health, and tens of thousands more are expected to go without care since Planned Parenthood was banned from the Women's Health Program last year. Nearly half of women seeking an abortion in Texas were unable to access their preferred birth control method in the months prior to their unintended pregnancy, according to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, led by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, Ibis Reproductive Health, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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For more than 75 years, Planned Parenthood has been Texas' most trusted nonprofit provider of reproductive health care.