Fed Court Upholds Texas Abortion-Clinic Regs; MSNBC's Wagner Mourns Ruling with Planned Parenthood's Richards

MSNBC's Alex Wagner devoted a full segment on her June 10 Now program to kvetching with Planned Parenthood chief Cecile Richards about how "distressing" it was the the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to strike down a Texas abortion-clinic regulation bill which had resulted in the shuttering of clinics which fell below code by failing to adhere to the same clinical standards as other outpatient surgical clinics.

"I mean, can you believe in the year 2015 when we've come so far on other parts of our sort of society and culture, we've rewound the clock to a period we're talking about back-alley abortions all over again?!" Wagner groused at one point.

Of course, and you probably guessed as much, there was no guest brought on for a counterpoint nor did Wagner in any way ask any tough questions or play devil's advocate with Richards, the daughter of the late Ann Richards, the last Democrat elected governor of the Lone Star State. 

Below you'll find the relevant transcript:

MSNBC
Now with Alex Wagner
June 10, 2015

4:43 p.m. Eastern (teaser)

ALEX WAGNER, anchor: Coming up: Is having to drive 600 miles for an abortion an undue burden? In the State of Texas, officials say no. That's just ahead.

4:50 p.m. Eastern (interview)

WAGER: Unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in, most abortion clinics in the State of Texas will close at the end of this month. That is because yesterday a federal appellate court upheld some of the strictest abortion laws in the country.

The decision puts about half of the state's remaining abortion clinics at risk of closing. Something that would leave 1.3 million women of reproductive age in Texas 100 miles or more from the nearest clinic. The decision is expected to take effect in about 22 days.

Joining me now is the president of Planned parenthood federation of America Cecile Richards. Cecile, thanks for joining me.

CECILE RICHARDS, Planned Parenthood president: Absolutely.

WAGNER: This is so distressing.

RICHARDS: It's incredibly distressing.

WAGNER: So, so the reason these clinics may have to close is that they are not up to standard as the State of Texas would like to establish. Why, why are these standards bogus in the minds of a lot of folks? 

RICHARDS: Right, that's a really good question. Because what the legislature did under the guise of helping women was pass these incredible restrictions on who can provide abortion services. Not only what kinds of facilities, essentially small hospitals, but what kinds of doctors. And so it's really limiting. And what now that these laws are taking affect, it means dozens of very good medical providers are closing down.

And as you said, we could now be in a state where there are more than 5 million women of reproductive age and only nine or 10 clinics still open. 

WAGNER: Yeah, in 2012, there were 41 clinics open. If the law goes into effect, ten clinics. Now, one of the things the court evaluated is, is it an undue burden on women who need to have an abortion to ask them to drive incredible distances. What I found, like, staggering in that is the court, at one point said, for one clinic closing that's closing, I think, in El Paso, some women are going to have to drive 1200 miles round-trip to get to an abortion clinic. How is that, I mean, that's a distance longer than D.C. To Boston, New York City to Raleigh, North Carolina. These are huge distances to cover. What does that practically mean for women? 

RICHARDS: Well, it means that a lot of women aren't going to be able to get access to safe and legal abortion. And what they seem to imply is women can cross the border to New Mexico. Well, it also of course would mean that women will cross the border to Mexico. And it's really ironic that you think of the Roe v. Wade case started in Texas for this same reason. That women were having to leave the country that couldn't have a safe and legal abortion. And we were literally this is how far back we've gone. And it's very disturbing. I think you can look at this case in Georgia where a woman has been jailed, of course, was let out today but stayed in jail three days on this very, for this same kind of problem, where women are going to be resorting to unsafe means, and there is absolutely no reason for it. It's all about politics. None of it is about the safety and health of women. 

WAGNER: What's mind boggling is the State of Texas is arguing, well we need these restrictions in place because it's going to keep this procedure safe, at the same time the state is also arguing women in certain parts of Texas can just drive to New Mexico, where, by the way, the clinics are not subject to the same requirements. Effectively saying, it doesn't matter if they go get, you know, abortions at quote, unquote unsafe clinics in New Mexico. 

RICHARDS: Absolutely no. There's so much hypocrisy in the legislation and now we're seeing the impact. Obviously the goal of the state legislature and of Governor Rick Perry was to end safe and legal abortion completely in the State of Texas. I think that's what they thought would happen. If there is any silver lining, and there really isn't, because this is a devastating law, is that there have been folks now who have come out of the woodwork supporting Planned Parenthood and other organizations.  

We were just able to open a new Planned Parenthood health center in Dallas, Texas, that meets these restrictions. But, again, there are millions of women who are unduly burdened by this law, and it is absolutely we're going to begin to see the results of it in Texas and across the country. 

WAGNER: So, I mean, as you said, this is happening across the country. What is the likelihood that the Supreme Court takes this up? 

RICHARDS: Well, I know they have asked for a stay, and -- 

WAGNER: On this Texas case. 

RICHARDS: -- on this Texas case, in order to go to the Supreme Court, and I think the likelihood is the Supreme Court will hear this case, and it 's going to be incredibly important that the justices of the Supreme Court recognize what a burden women face not only in Texas but across the country. 

WAGNER: Because if you are asking a woman to drive hundreds of miles to get an abortion, that's limiting the number of women who can take work off, who have access to transportation. I mean, this law disproportionately it would seem targets poor women.

RICHARDS: Absolutely. It already targets women that have the least access to health care. And I think one of the really cruel ironies of this is that women on the Rio Grande border, one of the most underserved areas of the State of Texas, many of those women are undocumented. They actually cannot drive to San Antonio. They cannot drive to Houston or Austin because they can't pass through the border check points. And so, we're really literally forcing women to go across the border to Mexico to get what is a legal procedure in the State of Texas or should be a legal procedure in the State of Texas. 

WAGNER: I mean, can you believe in the year 2015 when we've come so far on other parts of our sort of society and culture, we've rewound the clock to a period we're talking about back-alley abortions all over again. 

RICHARDS: Absolutely. And I think that the incredible thing is actually that the country supports safe and legal abortion. 

WAGNER: Yeah, and abortions are down across the U.S.!

RICHARDS: That's right. We're doing a better job of providing birth control. There's so much good news in terms of women's health. And the fact that states and state legislatures and politicians would be getting between women and their doctors and ability to get a safe and legal abortion is an outrage. 

WAGNER: Texas, Cecile, why, I mean, you're from the state. What do you say? 

RICHARDS:  Listen, it is a cautionary tale for the politicians, both who running for president and who are in legislatures across the state -- across the country -- what can happen when you pass these kinds of laws. 

WAGNER: It is, it is terrifying and very, very sad what is happening to the women of Texas. Cecile Richards, always good to see you. Thanks for taking the time.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.