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The Brief: Oct. 22, 2013

The first day of arguments in a pivotal court battle have pushed Texas' new abortion restrictions back into the spotlight.

An abortion rights rally at the Texas Capitol on July 1, 2013.

The Big Conversation

The first day of arguments in a pivotal court battle have pushed Texas' new abortion restrictions back into the spotlight.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel on Monday opened a hearing in Austin that will provide the first test of whether the state's controversial new abortion law can withstand legal scrutiny, as the Tribune's Becca Aaronson reports.

In the courtroom, the plaintiffs — which include the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of women's health providers, including Planned Parenthood — challenged two of the new law's provisions that pertain to hospital admitting privileges and medical abortions.

"Currently, there’s no abortion clinics west of I-35 that will be able to perform this service" if the hospital admitting privileges provision goes into effect, Dr. Paul Fine, the medical director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, testified. The plaintiffs say 22,000 women will lose access to the procedure every year under the new rule.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the state, who cast doubt on the abortion rights supporters' data, denied that the law created undue burdens on women seeking abortions. In a shift from this summer's legislative fight, when Republicans repeatedly cited women's safety as justification for the law, the state's legal team also said the restrictions sought to advance the state's interest in promoting fetal life.

"The Constitution allows the state to protect fetal life in this manner so long as it does not impose an undue burden," said Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell, according to the San Antonio Express-News. 

Early in the day, Yeakel, who is expected to issue a ruling by Monday, acknowledged that he wouldn't likely have the final word in the case.

"I would be shocked if whoever was displeased by my ruling did not appeal," he said.

But he added that he would weigh the law, not the politics of abortion.

"This court’s job is not to rule on whether women should be allowed abortions, but to rule on whether or not this statute comes within the existing constitutional confine," he said.

The second and final day of arguments will continue today at 9 a.m.


•    Texas A&M Pursues a Campus in Israel (The New York Times): "When Gov. Rick Perry visits Israel this week, he will leave a surprising piece of Texas behind: his alma mater, Texas A&M University. Mr. Perry will join Texas A&M leaders and Israeli officials in Jerusalem on Wednesday to announce the creation of Texas A&M Peace University, a branch campus of the sixth largest university in the United States. It will be built in Nazareth, known as the Arab capital of Israel."

•    At home in Houston, Cruz continues fight against Obamacare (Houston Chronicle): "Criticized by senior leaders in his own party and blamed by Democrats for inspiring a government shutdown they claim was a pricey, pointless and painful waste of time, Ted Cruz returned to his hometown Monday night to a hero's welcome bestowed by the tea party faithful who filled the headquarters of the King Street Patriots in northwest Houston."

•    Parker ads swing negative (Houston Chronicle): "Mayor Annise Parker launched her campaign for a final two-year term earlier this year with an upbeat tone, saying the city's booming economy meant she had 'the wind at my back' and questioning what issues any opponent could use against her with such broad optimism among voters. With the Nov. 5 election in two weeks and early voting underway, however, Parker's slogan of 'the best can get better' largely has been replaced with 'my opponent is awful, don't vote for him.'"

•    Toth Announces Bid to Succeed Williams in Senate (The Texas Tribune): "State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, announced on Monday that he will run for the state Senate seat being vacated by Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands."

Quote to Note: "I regret how I handled that situation, and I would like to offer you my apologies." — U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, in a letter to the National Park Service apologizing for his confrontation with a park ranger during the government shutdown


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