CARRIE FEIBEL --- NPR
A federal judge in Austin, Texas, will issue a decision in the next few days about whether clinics that perform abortion in the state must become outpatient surgery centers.
The Texas law is part of a national trend, in which state legislatures seek to regulate doctors and their offices instead of women seeking abortions.
The laws are collectively known as TRAP laws for "Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers."
"They do just that," said Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston. "They 'trap' providers into very tight, medically unnecessary restrictions."
The Texas law that passed in 2013 requires doctors who perform abortions to first obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Many clinics, especially rural ones, found it difficult to comply with that rule by the November deadline. The number of Texas clinics that perform abortions has dropped from 41 to 20.
Now the law's final rule requires doctor's offices to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers, including an array of rules that govern hallway widths, the presence of showers and lockers, heating and cooling specifications. The rules also require conformance with other construction codes that can cost millions of dollars.
The rule goes into effect on Labor Day, unless federal Judge Lee Yeakel of the Western district in Austin issues an injunction to stop it. He is expected to issue a decision by Friday. If he stops the surgery center rule, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott could quickly appeal to reinstate it.
One Houston doctor, who asked not to be identified because he fears being targeted by abortion protestors, says he will have to stop providing abortions if the final rule goes into effect.
Abortions are a small but important part of his practice: he delivers babies, gives wellness exams, performs gynecological surgery and even offers tummy tucks.
"Abortion is part of what we're trained to do as obstetricians-gynecologists. That's the medical point of it," he said. "When the politicians get into the mix, it becomes a completely different story."
Planned Parenthood's Tafolla said only eight clinics in Texas would meet the newest requirement, and they're all in the major cities: two are in Houston (including Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast), two in San Antonio, two in Dallas, and one each in Fort Worth and Austin.
Women in East Texas, the Rio Grande Valley, and west of San Antonio would have to drive hundreds of miles for multiple visits, because a 2011 law put in place a 24-hour waiting period following a mandatory ultrasound, plus follow-up visits for women using the abortion pill.