Joseph Potter

A U.S. district judge determined parts of the state’s most recent abortion restriction bill unconstitutional Monday. 

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel partially granted a preliminary injunction filed by Planned Parenthood against Texas House Bill No. 2. The bill, which calls for strengthened regulations on abortion, is set to go into effect Tuesday, except for the requirement struck down by Yeakel’s decision, which states doctors performing abortions are required to seek admitting privileges from nearby hospitals.

The bill has been the subject of significant controversy since before its passage in July, when it prompted a 13-hour filibuster by then-state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who was attempting to block its passage. The bill also resulted in protests and counter-protests at the Capitol. 

Yeakel’s opinion stated the bill’s admitting-privileges requirement is a hindrance to women seeking abortions because it “impose[s] an undue burden on patients.”  Additionally, Yeakel concluded the bill’s restrictions on medication-induced abortion do not place such a burden on patients unless a doctor deems it necessary for the life or health of the mother. The bill did recognize the higher dosage, off-label use of abortion drugs is completely safe.

UT sociology professor Joseph Potter, who conducted research used by Planned Parenthood in its preliminary conjunction, said he was glad the admitting privileges requirement of the bill was struck down. In his research, Potter concluded the previous requirement would adversely affect roughly 22,000 women in the state who would no longer be able to get the abortions they sought. 

“I am of course pleased that the admitting privileges requirement was struck down, as it would have led to the immediate loss of services in a great many places around the state,” Potter said.

Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General’s Office, said Texas has already appealed the court’s ruling in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The court upheld part of the law and enjoined part of the law,” Bean said. “As everyone — including the trial court judge — has acknowledged, this is a matter that will ultimately be resolved by the appellate courts or the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Savanna Faulkner, president of Texas Students for Life, an anti-abortion organization at UT, said that she wasn’t expecting the bill’s restrictions to be stricken down by the court.

“I’m really shocked that parts of the bill were deemed unconstitutional,” Faulkner said. “I know that we will be able to appeal it in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The bill made higher standards for women and their doctors, so it would be helpful to women’s health.”

The court also ruled that the plaintiffs for the case — Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers — will have their costs of court recovered. Renee Paradis, a lawyer representing several plaintiffs in the case, said she was pleased with the results of the case.

“I think it’s a good day for women in Texas,” Paradis said. “It’s really important that the admitting privileges provision was dropped because it ensures meaningful access to abortion services for Texas women.”

UT sociology professor Joseph Potter was in the hot seat Monday and Tuesday, testifying to stop the controversial abortion restrictions that were passed this summer. The restrictions, some of which would go into effect next week, would impose stiffer standards on abortion clinics by requiring admitting privileges at a nearby hospital for clinic doctors and restricting access to abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

In an injunction against the restrictions, Potter testified on behalf of those seeking to stop the measure’s implementation, prompting anti-abortion activists to question the study’s methodology. Pro-choice supporters, on the other hand, have lauded the study as one more piece of evidence for their cause.

Still others, such as myself, argue that designing studies for use in legal arguments can limit a study’s overall usefulness. In the rush to produce impactful, timely data by tight court deadlines, it seems difficult to both conduct research and allow the peer-review process to enhance the study’s credibility and make it durable in the long run.

Potter’s study claims that one in three Texas women could be affected by the state’s new abortion restrictions, which are expected to close 37 of 42 clinics statewide once it is fully enacted next year. Using data from the state and from pro-choice groups, Potter’s study calculated the maximum number of abortions remaining clinics would be able to offer and subtracted that from the projected number of abortions sought by Texas women in 2014. Using this method, Potter arrived at a shortfall of 22,286.

In response, the state of Texas has alleged that the study did not clearly explain how it got its numbers. But Renee Paradis, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said that the study is “extremely helpful” in showing the unconstitutionality of the new restrictions.

Indeed, if accurate, the study highlights the socio-economic dilemma facing pro-life advocates: Will poor women denied legal abortion forgo it, or will they opt to abort in more dangerous circumstances? Even for abortion opponents such as myself, this study lays bare the impact of Texas’ law on the vulnerable in our society.

Even the review process can be limited by political debates. When review is possible, studies are sometimes rushed through peer review and published because of their provocative subject matter, not their scientific merit. While speed allows these studies to influence policy and prove professors’ relevance, this lack of substantive review weakens them by leaving them wide open to partisan criticism and eliminating a layer of healthy debate. Taken to an extreme, activist studies run the risk of “cheapening” research, and the reputation of the university associated with it, by prioritizing “timeliness” over quality.

UT government professor Benjamin Gregg, who looks at the use of sociological research in public policy, had the opposite concern: Destructive self-censorship. He pointed out that scholars “self-selecting for restraint” would merely lead to less informed actors dominating the discussion.

Gregg proposed that a plurality of expert opinions is best in the courtroom and that the high-profile debate that results informs the citizens about pressing issues.

Gregg has a point. Psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark, who were heavily involved in the civil rights movement, conducted studies in 1939 analyzing children’s reactions to black and white dolls. Both black and white children preferred the white dolls even when all other factors were equal. The results were published in 1947, and Kenneth Clark testified in 1952’s Briggs v. Elliott, and later the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education which ended segregation in schools, using the study to make the case that “separate but equal” was not equal at all. This study was vetted by years in the public sphere and timely enough for when the case reached the Supreme Court.

It’s clear from cases like the Clarks’ that a sharp firewall between science and politics can stifle constructive debate and further public ignorance.

I understand that time is not on Potter’s side, but instrumental science runs the risk of putting political priorities before the goal of producing quality research — unwittingly reinforcing the university “factory model” bemoaned by progressive academics. Potter’s research may be efficacious. But given the limitations mentioned above, he should better inform the public about the steps he and internal reviewers have taken to balance timeliness and quality.

Regardless of the results, the public should show caution and evaluate Potter’s study on its scientific merits, not on its political usefulness to advancing or stopping an agenda.

Knoll is a first-year master’s student in Latin American studies from Dallas.

Joseph Potter, sociology professor and head of the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, defended himself Friday against accusations by the state claiming his abortion-related research is flawed.

Planned Parenthood, an international women’s health care provider and advocacy organization, filed an injunction late last month to halt the implementation of House Bill 2, which the Texas Legislature passed over the summer. The bill strengthens abortion regulations across the state. 

Planned Parenthood used Potter’s research in its injunction, which outlined the effects the bill would have on health centers and which the state attacked.

Potter stood by his findings in the plaintiff’s Rebuttal Declaration.

“When we initially spoke with plaintiffs’ counsel regarding the possibility of analyzing the likely effects of the admitting privileges law, we made clear that we would have to do our analysis following the rigorous standards of social science research and that I would be unwilling to make any statement unsupported by the data,” Potter wrote in the declaration.

Potter’s declaration used a point-by-point format to challenge the state’s charge.

A hearing will be held Monday in which Planned Parenthood, its plaintiffs, the state and its defendants will make their cases in court. Potter is scheduled to testify as a witness for Planned Parenthood. Both Potter and representatives from the attorney general’s office declined to comment.

The state of Texas filed a response to Planned Parenthood’s request for a preliminary injunction against House Bill 2 — a set of strengthened abortion regulations — on Oct. 15.

This response outlined what the state perceives to be flaws in the argument supporting Planned Parenthood’s request for an injunction. Among the flaws is a rebuttal to research done by UT professor Joseph Potter, which was used by Planned Parenthood as evidence that the new regulations could harm women seeking abortions. 

“Potter asserts that ‘at least one-third of currently licensed clinics will stop providing abortions entirely,’ but he does not apply any methodology to reach that conclusion, and he does not even explain how he came up with that figure,” the state’s brief stated. 

The state’s response centers around the claim that the plaintiffs, including Planned Parenthood and other clinics providing abortions, are compromising the constitutional rights of their patients and their physician-employees. As alleged by the state, the plaintiffs are compromising these rights by challenging the new “health and safety regulations” imposed by the government.

Potter’s team is withholding further comment until the plaintiff’s reply papers are submitted on Oct. 18, which will then be followed by a hearing in court on Oct. 21. The state refused to comment.

Planned Parenthood will use research from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, headed by UT professor Joseph Potter, to justify a request for a preliminary injunction against a set of new abortion restrictions passed by the Texas Legislature in July.

Renee Paradis, a lawyer representing Planned Parenthood, said her client is challenging two provisions of the bill: strengthened restrictions on medication-induced abortions and new requirements for doctors who perform abortions to acquire admitting privileges from hospitals.

Potter’s research — which used information provided by the plaintiff — culminated in an expert report showing how the bill would affect Texas women. 

“Dr. Potter’s research has been extremely helpful,” Paradis said. “It has allowed [the plaintiff] to demonstrate the unconstitutionality of the bill in its infringement upon the rights of women in Texas.”

Planned Parenthood’s official request for a preliminary injunction against the new bill included several citations of Potter’s research with the project. Referencing the “Potter Declaration” — a term the plaintiff uses to cite Potter’s research — the injunction states, “Out of the approximately 68,900 women who are expected to seek an abortion annually in Texas, a full 22,286 will not be able to do so because of the privileges law.” 

Danielle Wells, representative of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said the state of care for Texas women is already in jeopardy because the legislature cut funding for family planning programs by two-thirds in 2011. 

Wells said the decrease caused more than 70 female care centers to close and more than 130,000 women to lose access to basic preventative care such as cervical cancer screenings and birth control in addition to abortion services.

“I think it’s important to recognize that if this bill goes into effect, it will harm the women who are already suffering the most,” Wells said. 

Rachel Renier, Plan II Honors freshman, said she thinks there will always be a demand for abortions and closing clinics would lead to women turning to the “black market.” 

“At a certain socioeconomic level, I think abortions should be available and adding regulations isn’t the best way to prevent women from having abortions if they are really desperate,” Renier said. “I’m glad to see the research from UT contribute to the effort to fix the issues caused by these regulations.”

The project used a team of researchers from UT’s Population Research Center, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Ibis Reproductive Health, an international women’s health organization. 

Dr. Joseph Potter, professor of Sociology, gives a spirited presentation of his ongoing research entitled, “Contraceptive Access in Austin Texas After the 2011 Funding Cuts: Results from a Prospective Study.”

Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

Texas women prefer long-term and reversible birth control methods but don’t always have access to them, according to new research published by a UT sociology professor.

The Population Research Center’s Brown Bag seminar on Friday showcased sociology professor Joseph Potter’s research, “Contraceptive Access in Austin, Texas After the 2011 Funding Cuts: Results from a Prospective Study.”

Potter said family-planning funding was cut by two-thirds by the Texas Legislature in 2011. Priority for remaining funds was directed to comprehensive care rather than specialized family-planning providers. Planned Parenthood was excluded from the newly established Texas Women’s Health Program.

Restrictions on abortion providers were added by the Legislature during a special session in June, including regulations such as exact specification for widths of hallways. The regulations would force the closure of all but two abortion clinics in the state.

Potter said the Texas Policy Evaluation Project was created to study women’s experiences seeking contraception following the funding cuts.

All women in the study were required to have completed childbearing or were planning to wait at least two years to have another child, Potter said. Four hundred women were recruited from facilities operated by St. David’s HealthCare. These women were interviewed after delivery and then every three months following the birth.

The results showed that 15 percent of the women were using a long-acting reversible contraceptive method, 18 percent were sterilized, 23 percent used hormonal methods such as the pill and 43 percent used less-effective methods such as condoms.

Potter said the study revealed women had a significant interest in long-acting reversible contraception, but found they were harder to access because of cost, limited locations inaccessibility and lack of information.

Government senior Katie Ray, who interns with Potter, said she has been involved in the study by helping Potter update his website and communicate with policy makers. Ray said she feels passionately about the work she and Potter do.

“I’m worried about low-income women in Texas not being able to access the health care that they need,” Ray said.

Journalism junior Maria Roque also got involved in interning for Potter through the Bridging Disciplines Program this semester. Although she has not been a part of the research, she said she believes that access to contraception affects more than just those in Austin.

“It’s an important issue that deserves attention and research, not just from women in Texas but also people all over the country,” Roque said.


UPDATE: Abortion bills pass Texas House State Affairs Committee

Updated at 1:30 p.m. 

The Texas House State Affairs Committee approved abortion bills HB16, HB60 and SB 5 Friday afternoon. The full House chamber is expected to debate on bills Sunday. 

Original Story:

Following many hours of emotional, citizen testimony on abortion bills, the Texas House State Affairs Committee adjourned and left two abortion bills pending in committee.

According to multiple twitter reporters, more than 700 people registered to speak on HB16 and HB60, bills that would add additional restrictions to receiving abortions in Texas. Both bills were filed by Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Austin, along with several other authors.

The commitee hearing was almost 15 hours long. Speakers ranged from grandparents to college students, and included voices from both sides of the abortion debate.

HB 16, or the so-called “fetal pain bill,” would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. HB 60 would add several more restrictions to having abortions in Texas. Lawmakers supporting the bill have said these bills aim to make abortion safer in Texas, but critiquers of the bills have said it would make it more difficult for Texas women to get an abortion.

Several UT students, recent UT graduates and even UT professors spoke to the committee during the late hours Thursday evening and early hours Friday morning. The committee did not adjourn until 3:45 Friday morning, though registered speakers who did not get a chance to testify kept speaking.

UT Professor Joseph Potter also spoke in opposition to the fetal pain bill and other abortion legislation. He said the sonogram law from the previous session, which requires women to have a sonogram before receiving an abortion, has made it more difficult for many women to get an abortion.

“This is not going to be anything to help women’s health,” Potter said. “The brunt of the impact is going to be on low-income women.”

Leslie Tisdale, communications studies senior and a former president of the University Democrats, pointed out to the committee that Texas high school textbooks say fetuses begin feeling pain at 28 weeks, while HB 16 claims fetuses begin feeling pain at 20 weeks. This is a discrepancy that concerns her, she said, since she is looking to becoming a teacher.

“I ask you all to reconsider this bill,” Tisdale said to the committee.

Activists from the LGBTQ community also waited in the long line of testify to speak on the abortion bills. Lauren Cozart, who identifies as lesbian and is a former child protective services investigator for Travis County, said she was speaking against the abortion bills for herself and other women in Texas.

Quite frankly, I'm a lesbian. Unless I get the next Jesus in me, I'm not getting pregnant,” Cozart said.

She said she has seen women with minimal-wage paying jobs who have struggled to feed the children they already have. More mouths to feed would make life even harder, Cozart said.

Ash Hall, a UT graduate and former campus LGBTQ activist, also spoke against the abortion bills for the LGBTQ community. Hall said there are those who will attempt to force themselves on lesbian women in order to have “corrective sex” to try and make them straight. Hall said it is crucial abortion remains an option for these women, who are raped.

Earlier this week, the Texas Senate passed SB 5, a bill that includes many of the provisions the two house bills include. Many conservative Texas lawmakers have supported the abortion bills, while Democrats have been opposed to the legislation.

This article has been updated since it was posted.

Follow Bobby Blanchard on Twitter @bobbycblanchard.

Women are more likely to take birth control for longer periods of time if they have the ability to get their medication over the counter in Mexico, according to a UT study.

Sociology professor Joseph Potter led a study about predominantly uninsured women who had the option to purchase oral contraceptives either in Juarez, Mexico or El Paso. According to the study, women who bought the pills in Mexico are more likely to remain on the medication but also put less thought into what kind might be safest for them.

“Our main motivation was to see what would happen if the pill were made over-the-counter in the United States,” Potter said.
Kristine Hopkins, a research assistant, professor in sociology and co-researcher in the study, said making the pill available over-the-counter in the U.S. could expand options and reduce potential barriers for women in the U.S.

High costs and prescriptions both make it harder for women in the U.S. to obtain oral contraceptives, Hopkins said. Costs in the United States are higher than in Mexico.

“Many of the same pills are available in Mexico that are at the clinics in El Paso,” Hopkins said.

She said there are some health risks to taking oral contraceptives, which may be why they are not readily available in the United States.

Another barrier facing women in the United States is getting a prescription. This takes time and costs more money than simply buying them over-the-counter as people did in Mexico.

Oral contraceptives pose some health risks, including blood clots, nausea and mood changes, which is why women should still see their doctor regularly while taking the pill, Hopkins said.

“I don’t think the pill should be made accessible over-the-counter because of the safety and concerns that go along with taking the pill. There are instances where the pill is not the best option, and women need to consult their doctors in order to figure that out,” Hopkins said.

Accessibility is the overall issue with differences in prescription and over-the-counter birth control.

“It’s important for women to see their gynecologist regularly, whether they take oral contraceptives or not but definitely if they do,” said clinical associate pharmacy professor Renee Acosta.