In the summer of 2013, Texas enacted a law “to improve the standard of care for abortion patients.” That’s what the state’s Attorney General has told the Supreme Court lawmakers intended to do, anyway. The law, known as HB 2, requires clinics that perform abortions to meet standards set for surgical centers, even if they only provide nonsurgical abortions by pill, and mandates that doctors have permission to admit patients to a hospital within 30 miles. Together, the two requirements could leave fewer than a dozen clinics open in a state that is home to 5.4 million women of reproductive age.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case against the two provisions on Wednesday morning. It’s the first major test of abortion rights in a decade. The decision could make the procedure inaccessible for women who don’t have the means to travel long distances, not just in Texas, but in a number of other states that have passed similar laws, including Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
Defenders of HB 2 say their intent is not to make abortions harder to get, but to make them safer. Never mind that the medical community says there is “no medical basis” for the regulations, or that other procedures with similar or greater risks aren’t subject to the same rules. The law’s proponents are trying to wriggle through a window created by the court’s 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which enabled states to put some regulation on abortion so long as it was “calculated to inform the woman’s free choice, not hinder it,” and did not put an “undue burden” on access to the procedure. In other words, Texas needs a valid reason for enacting regulations that limit access—hence the attempt to justify HB 2 on health grounds.
Unless you think the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Family Physicians are a bunch of know-nothings, it’s hard to see Texas’ health-based argument for HB 2 as anything but what it is: total baloney. But for more evidence that the law’s real purpose is to restrict abortion access, it’s useful to examine the history and mission of the group that has taken some credit for Texas’ law, as well as similar regulations in other states: Americans United for Life.
AUL describes itself as “the nation’s premier pro-life legal team,” working to achieve “one end,” namely the end of legal abortion. Founded in 1971, AUL spent most of its first two decades trying to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. But after getting little traction toward reinstating a federal ban, the group redirected its focus to the states, and shifted its strategy from a direct assault on the legality of abortion to an incremental approach aimed at making it more difficult for providers for operate, and for women to reach them. AUL now functions as a factory for antichoice legislation, producing model bills through its “Women’s Protection Project,” much as the American Legislative Exchange Council churns out conservative policy blueprints.