Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast announced yesterday it will close three of its centers in East Texas, the same day Gov. Rick Perry signed new abortion restrictions into law. Although opponents say the law will shutter many of the state’s abortion providers, Thursday’s announcement came as a result of pro-life legislation passed two years ago. Budget cuts from the 2011 legislative session finally trickled down to the centers, forcing Planned Parenthood to close those locations, the organization said in a press release.
Two of the centers in rural East Texas, in Huntsville and Lufkin, do not provide abortions and aren’t affected by the new restrictions. But the abortion center in Bryan does conduct abortions. It’s the center where former abortion supporter Abby Johnson worked as director before an ultrasound-guided abortion changed her views. Planned Parenthood said it will close the Bryan center in anticipation of the new law.
“While we believe the … requirements imposed on clinics providing early abortion are unconstitutional, we have made the difficult and practical decision to close Planned Parenthood Center for Choice in Bryan at this time rather than face the prospect of having to do so in the foreseeable future,” said Melaney Linton, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast.
In Austin, dozens of state troopers tightly monitored the signing ceremony held in a Capitol basement auditorium yesterday, bracing for hundreds of activists. Instead, about two dozen pro-abortion supporters showed up, clutching coat-hangers and signs that read “My Body, My Choice” and “Shame!”
Republican Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, who sponsored the bill in the House, said it was “the hand of God” and prayer that helped make the signing possible. She applauded the governor for his support, saying, “Your eternal legacy will be as a defender of life.”
During the ceremony, the governor drew applause for warmly greeting and shaking hands with Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, the only Senate Democrat who supported the bill.
“It is our responsibility and duty to give voice to the unborn individuals,” Perry told an auditorium of GOP lawmakers and pro-life supporters.
The law restricts abortions to surgical centers and requires abortionists to have hospital admitting privileges. Only five of the 42 abortion centers in Texas currently meet the new requirements, so some estimate as many as 37 abortion centers will close because of the law. Centers will have one year to either upgrade their facilities or shut down after the law takes effect in October.
The law also bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, based on the lawmakers’ conviction that babies can feel pain at that point, and dictates when abortion-inducing drugs like RU-486 can be taken.
Republican Sen. Glenn Hegar, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said the bill “will literally change the lives of millions of Texans … not just today in 2013, but for eternity.”
Similar 20-week abortion bans in other states have been blocked by federal judges, and opponents in Texas said they will pursue a similar course, though they did not file any immediate court challenges. Although a federal court in San Francisco blocked Arizona’s 20-week abortion ban in May, some think the more conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will uphold the Texas law.
This isn’t the first time Perry signed legislation restricting abortion in Texas. In 2011, legislators passed a budget that removed Planned Parenthood from the list of Texas-funded women’s care providers, opting to send the money to hospitals and Federally Qualified Health Centers. This January, Texas launched its own state-funded Women’s Health Program that side-steps federal funds and a federal requirement that the state include Planned Parenthood services.