June 28, 2013

IN A moment made for Twitter, Texas Sen. Wendy Davis stood for more than 13 hours and filibustered an abortion-restricting bill into the wee hours of Tuesday night. Ms. Davis’s physical feat and her remarkable personal story captured the country’s attention — but her victory looks shaky. The state legislature is convening for another special session Monday at which the bill — which restricts abortion by creating unnecessary regulations — is expected to be reintroduced.

The legislation Ms. Davis is fighting resembles abortion-restricting bills that other state legislatures (including Virginia’s) have enacted. In addition to banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the Texas bill would require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as surgery centers, like those in hospital wings. Doctors who perform abortions would have to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, which may require them to live near one and/or meet a quota of hospital admissions per year.

The case that such standards are needed to protect the health of abortion patients, as the Republican sponsors of the legislation claim, is weak. The real point is to force most abortion clinics out of business. The proposed Texas requirements would be so costly to meet as to cause the closure of all but a handful of clinics. They offer no real safety protections to women seeking abortions, and they would cost women access to important health-care services such as contraceptive care, cancer screenings and other routine tests.

Unfortunately, Texas is not an outlier but part of a pack of states imposing such spurious regulations. Bills containing expensive facility requirements have been passed in Alabama, Virginia, Indiana, Michigan, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Utah. Bills requiring hospital admitting privileges were passed in Alabama, North Dakota, Mississippi and Tennessee; similar legislation is expected in Ohio and Wisconsin. In all these states, women who are unable to access services other than abortion that these clinics offer, and in some cases safe abortions, find themselves in circumstances in which their health is at risk — the very problem these laws claim to minimize.

In Virginia, the final version of regulations issued by the Virginia Board of Health pursuant to a 2011 law requires abortion clinics to have public hallways at least 5 feet wide procedure rooms at least 120 or 150 square feet and heating and ventilation systems that meet certain specifications. The expense of meeting those requirements is prohibitive, a fact illustrated when Norfolk’s Hillcrest Clinic closed in April because it was unable to pay some $500,000 in renovation and other compliance costs.

Today, abortion is a constitutional right. Until that no longer is the case, it is deceitful for lawmakers to circumvent the rule of law with unjustified provisions. No doubt Ms. Davis will make that point when the debate resumes in Austin; sadly, the odds that her fortitude and common sense will prevail again don’t look good.