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Texas may bar abortion funding, state’s Supreme Court rules

AUSTIN, Texas (BP)–Texas may refuse to fund abortions for low-income women, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

In its 8-0 opinion announced Dec. 31, the Texas Supreme Court said the ban on funding abortions for Medicaid-eligible women does not violate the state constitution’s Equal Rights Amendment and demonstrates a legitimate government interest of preferring childbirth over abortion, The Houston Chronicle reported.

“Whatever one might think of the legislative policy choice that the Texas Medical Assistance Program funding scheme embodies, plaintiffs have simply failed to demonstrate that it reflects a purpose to discriminate because of sex,” Justice Harriet O’Neill wrote in the court’s opinion, according to The Chronicle.

Abortion doctors and clinics had sued the Texas Department of Health, arguing the state should pay for abortions for poor women who have heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, epilepsy or other illnesses that could present health risks during a pregnancy.

In its opinion, the state Supreme Court said the restriction is not overtly gender-based, since Texas funds all other medically necessary care for pregnant women. “The classification here is not so much directed at women as a class as it is abortion as a medical treatment, which, because it involves a potential life, has no parallel as a treatment method,” O’Neill wrote, according to The Chronicle.

“This was an attempt by abortion advocates to subvert the will of the people of Texas,” said Denise Burke, staff counsel of Americans United for Life, according to the Internet news service Pro-life Infonet. “Texas’ decision to use taxpayer money to fund only limited types of abortions is in direct compliance with federal requirements, principally the Hyde Amendment.

“The term ‘medically necessary abortion’ is just another way of saying ‘abortion on demand’ or abortion for any reason,” Burke said. “The U.S. Supreme Court has defined ‘health,’ within the context of abortion, so broadly that the term ‘medically necessary’ would include women who are suffering from stress, who are simply having an overly emotional day, or who have limited budgets, not just women whose health or life is actually threatened by a pregnancy.”

The state’s policy is patterned after the federal Hyde Amendment, which prohibits public funding of abortion except in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother.

Supporters and opponents of the policy differed on how many abortions Texas could have been required to fund. Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, estimated the state would have paid for between 13,700 and 27,400 abortions yearly at a cost of from $4 million to $8 million, according to Pro-life Infonet. Abortion-rights advocates in the case estimated the number at between 4,100 and 8,810 abortions, Pro-life Infonet reported. Fewer than two dozen abortions are funded under the currently restrictive policy, Pojman said, according to the report.

The opinion overturned a decision from Austin’s Third Court of Appeals, which ruled the Equal Rights Amendment prohibits the state from refusing money to low-income women whose physical or mental health could be adversely affected by pregnancy, The Chronicle reported.

Catherine Mauzy, an Austin lawyer for the doctors and clinics, said they hoped the court would find the ERA in the Texas Constitution provides more protection than the U.S. Constitution. “This ruling elevates the state’s interest in protecting potential life over the state’s interest in ensuring a living woman’s continued health,” Mauzy said, according to The Chronicle.

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