Lawsuit challenges Texas abortion curbs

(Reuters) - An abortion provider that in 2016 persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to void parts of a restrictive Texas law on Thursday filed a new lawsuit challenging dozens of that state’s other curbs on the procedure as unconstitutional.

Whole Woman’s Health Alliance and six nonprofits providing abortion-related services said Texas’ licensing, parental notification, waiting period, ultrasound and other requirements violated women’s due process rights.

They said the requirements impose an undue burden on women’s ability to abort nonviable fetuses, with a disproportionate impact on the poor, minorities and immigrants.

The complaint was filed in the federal court in Austin, Texas against state officials including Attorney General Ken Paxton and health services Commissioner John Hellerstedt, and seeks to block enforcement of the challenged laws.

Marc Rylander, a spokesman for Paxton, called the challenged requirements “common-sense measures” that protect women’s lives and reproductive health, and said the Supreme Court has upheld many similar requirements in the past.

“It is ridiculous that these activists are so dedicated to their radical pro-abortion agenda that they would sacrifice the health or lives of Texas women to further it,” he said.

In June 2016, the Supreme Court by a 5-3 vote struck down Texas’ requirements that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and that abortion clinics have costly hospital-grade facilities.

Critics said the requirements could have forced many Texas clinics to close, especially outside major metropolitan areas.

The majority decision in Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt was the court’s strongest endorsement of abortion rights since its 1992 reaffirmation of the constitutional right to abortion.

“It set a new standard of scrutiny, that states cannot pass restrictions without proof of medical evidence and scientific facts to justify them,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health, said in an interview on Thursday. “The decision gave us leverage to look at other restrictions that Texas has long been enforcing. We call it the ‘big fix.’”

Many U.S. states, like Texas often led or dominated by Republicans, have imposed new abortion limits in recent years.

There has long been speculation that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, 81, who joined the majority in the 2016 abortion case, may retire soon, giving President Donald Trump a chance to make the court more friendly to abortion opponents.

“The Supreme Court is always something we watch,” Miller said. “We don’t have a magic 8-ball to predict its makeup, but women are being affected by these laws every single day.”

The case is Whole Woman’s Health Alliance et al v Paxton et al, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, No. 18-00500.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang