The Brief: Texas Political News for Oct. 29, 2013

Abortion rights protesters march out of a House State Affairs Committee hearing on July 3, 2013.
Abortion rights protesters march out of a House State Affairs Committee hearing on July 3, 2013.

The Big Conversation

A ruling by a federal judge on Monday thrust abortion politics and Texas back into the national spotlight.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel — who was appointed by President George W. Bush — had been asked to rule on the constitutionality of two provisions of the controversial abortion law passed this summer by the Texas Legislature. His order on Monday came the day before those two new requirements were due to go into effect.

The Texas Tribune's Becca Aaronson reports that Yeakel ruled "that a provision of House Bill 2 that requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility 'places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus and is thus an undue burden to her.'”

Yeakel's ruling on a new set of requirements governing medication abortions was more nuanced, leading to more than a little confusion across social media in the immediate aftermath of the ruling.

 

Here's how The New York Times reported the other half of Yeakel's ruling: "But the court partly upheld a second measure, requiring doctors to use a particular drug protocol in nonsurgical, medication-induced abortions. Doctors have called that protocol outdated and too restrictive."

Other media outlets were quick to put the Texas decision in a larger, national context. For instance, here's what the The Washington Post had to say: "It's possible that this decision could ripple outside of Texas to other states that also have laws mandating admitting privileges at hospitals for abortion providers. The Guttmacher Institute counted three states that required admitting privileges as of June, with another three laws slated to take effect. This was before Texas had passed House Bill 2, so it's not on the list. ... Texas Gov. Perry has already promised to fight the decision. If the case winds its way up to the Supreme Court, it could set some new precedent for other states that have similar admitting restrictions."

And speaking of the Texas governor, he was one of many state Republican leaders quick to issue statements critical of Yeakel's ruling. "Today's decision will not stop our ongoing efforts to protect life and ensure the women of our state aren't exposed to any more of the abortion-mill horror stories that have made headlines recently," Perry said. "We will continue fighting to implement the laws passed by the duly-elected officials of our state, laws that reflect the will and values of Texans."

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, in whose chamber the most dramatic moment of the abortion law debate took place, said on Monday: "I am saddened by the court's decision to overturn certain elements of HB2 which were written to protect the health of Texas women. It is disturbing to know that the abortion industry is celebrating a so-called victory that actually reduces the standard of care for the women from whom they profit."

Abortion-rights groups were equally quick to praise the ruling. "We are pleased but not surprised by this development. It has been clear from day one that the laws advanced by Governor Perry and others are unconstitutional and put women at greater risk," NARAL Pro Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement. "We will continue to fight to ensure all parts of this law, and other laws restricting women's health care options, which are clearly unconstitutional are defeated."

For his part, Attorney General Greg Abbott quickly made the announcement that he was filing an appeal of Yeakel's ruling with the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. That move hardly came as a surprise, as it was predicted in the run-up to Monday's ruling that the case could end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Culled

•    Davis' reaction to ruling further proof of fine political line (Houston Chronicle): "Sen. Wendy Davis catapulted into the national consciousness this summer with a nearly 13-hour filibuster against tighter state restrictions on abortion. On Monday, she would not even say the word. Davis, whose filibuster propelled her into a run for governor, issued a three-sentence statement in reaction to a federal judge striking a key provision of Texas' controversial abortion law. As in her speech announcing her gubernatorial run earlier this month, nowhere in the statement did she use the word 'abortion.'"

 

•    State Sen. Wendy Davis has to sign affidavit to vote (Fort Worth Star-Telegram): "State Sen. Wendy Davis went to the polls to vote early Monday and found herself facing a situation that many Texans may encounter: The name on her driver’s license and voter registration card were slightly different, so she had to sign an affidavit at the Southside Community Center stating that she is the person registered to vote."

•    Voter ID rollout smooth, despite complaints about women being turned away (Austin American-Statesman): "Democrats — nationally and in Texas — have been trying to gain political traction by saying that Texas’ new voter identification law is hurting women, but election officials in Central Texas say the law isn’t proving to be much of a problem."

•    Straus Urges El Paso Voters to Support Prop 6 (The Texas Tribune): "Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, on Monday continued his statewide tour in support of a ballot initiative that, if passed, would tap into the state’s savings account to finance a water development bank for Texas."

Quote to Note: “As everyone — including the trial court judge — has acknowledged, this is a matter that will ultimately be resolved by the appellate courts or the U.S. Supreme Court.” — Abbott spokeswoman Lauren Bean, acknowledging that Monday's action on Texas' new abortion law will hardly be the last word on the matter

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