Lee Yeakel

A federal district court judge struck down a state women’s reproductive rights law Friday that places restrictions on abortion clinics in Texas, calling it unconstitutional.

Judge Lee Yeakel concluded that “the act’s ambulatory-surgical-center requirements places an unconstitutional burden on women throughout Texas.”


House Bill 2 was signed into law on July 30, 2013. Yeakel blocked the requirement that raised the required standard of abortion clinics to the level of “ambulatory-surgical-center” standards, or full hospital building standards. 


The state of Texas has already announced plans to appeal his decision.


The bill also required abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of their clinics, banned abortions after 20 weeks of fertilization and added one more required doctor’s appointment when using the abortion pill. The extra doctor’s appointment totaled to four required appointments.


The latter three rules went into effect in November 2013. The higher clinic building standards would have gone into effect Sept. 1, forcing many of Texas' abortion clinics to close. 


Without Yeakel’s decision, the only abortion clinics left in Texas would be in the Houston, Austin, San Antonio and the Dallas/Fort Worth areas, making it far more difficult for women not in those areas to obtain an abortion.

Nancy Northrup, CEO and president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which challenged the law on behalf of abortion clinics in the state, said in a press release that women still have difficulty finding high-quality reproductive health care.

“The court has made clear that women’s well-being is not advanced by laws attacking access to essential health care, and that rights protected by the U.S. Constitution may not be denied through laws that make them impossible to exercise,” Northrup said.


Max Patterson, a history senior and University Democrats president, said reproductive issues are important to understand. 



“It affects all women in Texas, and it definitely affects students at UT,” Patterson said. “It just shows really how terrible governance by our state legislature is.”



Patterson said he was happy with today’s verdict.



“I’m hopeful that, when it gets appealed, it will remain struck down,” Patterson said. “It’s definitely a victory — it was an unconstitutional act, not based on medical reasons.”



Amy Nabozny, a history junior and College Republicans president, said she disapproved of the decision.



“It is a shame that a federal judge would chose to sacrifice the safety of Texas women for the sake of accessibility,” Nabozny said.



This story has been updated throughout since its original publication.

Pro-abortion rights activists demonstrate against Senate Bill 1 at the Texas State Capitol rotunda in Austin on Friday, July 12, 2013. The proposed legislation would enact severe restrictions for abortion clinics across the state.

Photo Credit: Guillermo Hernandez | Daily Texan Staff

As of Tuesday, abortions performed after 20 weeks are illegal in the state of Texas. That change comes by way of House Bill 2, the same piece of omnibus abortion legislation that set the Texas Capitol ablaze in a flame of orange and blue-clad protesters this past July. This development was set to be a clear win for anti-abortion advocates, but a U.S. District Court decision has cast a shadow over that victory.

 The decision, made less than 24 hours before portions of HB 2 were set to go into effect, blocked one provision of the legislation and partially blocked another in response to a lawsuit brought by a group of plaintiffs that included Planned Parenthood, the reproductive health organization.

The decision by District Judge Lee Yeakel, though hailed by many pro-abortion rights advocates as a victory, will not stop the unchallenged portions of HB 2 from going into effect. The state of Texas has already filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which, as the Texas Tribune’s Becca Aaronson reported Monday, “has recently upheld numerous laws that restrict abortion.” 

Still, despite the decision’s potential impermanence should it be overturned, the ruling still offered a refreshing outside acknowledgement of the actual purpose of the law: to restrict reproductive freedom. 

Moreover, the decision made Monday in no way impacts the two most controversial provisions of HB 2: the ban on abortions after 20 weeks — which, as previously mentioned, is effective as of Tuesday — and the requirement that abortion providers upgrade their facilities to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers by September 2014. The latter is expected to force abortion centers across the state to close should they be unable to fund upgrades to their facilities. Neither of these provisions was challenged in court by the plaintiffs. 

Of those provisions that were challenged, however, only one, the requirement that doctors have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, was struck down completely. The other, which makes it illegal for doctors to prescribe that women take abortion-inducing drugs outside their doctor’s office — a practice which is against FDA protocol but which allows women to go through the painful side effects of the medication in the privacy of their own home — was declared constitutional only in the case that the mother’s life or health is in danger. 

In other words, if this ruling is upheld, the number of doctors that qualify to perform abortions will not be reduced by HB 2 and doctors may still prescribe abortion-inducing medicines for at-home use if the mother’s life or health is in danger. 

So yes, the victory for pro-abortion rights advocates is partial and potentially temporary, should a higher court side with the state’s appeal. But the decision offers a confirmation of what pro-abortion rights advocates suspected all along: Despite the claims of the bill’s supporters that HB 2 was an attempt at improving women’s health, the admitting privileges provision failed the legal “purpose” test. This means that the underlying purpose of the law, in Yeakel’s opinion, was not to improve women’s health, but “to hinder autonomous reproductive choice.” 

And though Yeakel didn’t overturn the provision relating to abortion-inducing medicine, he did so on the basis that the state had the right to prefer one medical procedure or protocol over another, not on the basis that the state was protecting women by doing so. In fact, the ruling explicitly stated that the FDA protocol required by HB 2 “is assuredly more imposing and unpleasant for the woman.” 

The language of the district court’s ruling validates the frustration of those who spent the summer protesting against legislators who claimed that HB2 was “for the good of women.” HB 2 isn’t that great for women, after all, but that doesn’t necessarily make it unconstitutional. 

“No ruling of this court will sway the opinion regarding abortion held by anyone,” Yeakel wrote in his opinion. Sure enough, with the ruling out, opinions have yet to change and both sides will continue waging wars over abortion rights. 

Editor's note: A previous version of this story used the phrase "pro-abortion" in the article title. The title should have used the phrase "pro-abortion rights." 

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.”

A U.S. district court ruled Thursday to deny a portion of a lawsuit that would prevent UT from receiving revenue University officials say is necessary to establish a proposed medical school and teaching hospital.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel denied plaintiffs’ request to bar Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district, from canvassing the votes of Proposition 1, a measure that would finalize the election results. Proposition 1 is a ballot proposal approved by voters Nov. 6 that would raise property taxes to partially fund operations at the teaching hospital and purchase medical services from medical school students and faculty for the general public.

The Travis County Taxpayers Union, a political action committee formed to oppose Proposition 1, and three other plaintiffs say Central Health violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965 by including advocacy language that allegedly swayed voters to cast ballots in favor of Proposition 1.

In a statement released Thursday, Patricia Young Brown, Central Health President and CEO, said she is pleased with Yeakel’s decision, which will allow Central Health’s board of managers to finalize the election results Monday.

“The ballot language presented to the voters of Travis County was understandable and allowed for further clarity on this important issue, which was our intention,” Brown said.

Yeakel said the plaintiffs do not meet the four standards required for the court to issue a preliminary injunction, which restrains a party in a case from proceeding with a particular action and would prevent Central Health from canvassing the votes for Proposition 1.

To qualify for a preliminary injunction, plaintiffs must demonstrate four criteria: a substantial likelihood that their case will prevail on its merits, a substantial threat that the plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm if injunction is not granted, that the potential harm demonstrated by the plaintiffs exceeds the potential harm to the party they seek to restrain and that granting the injunction will serve the public interest.

Yeakel said the court has concerns regarding the plaintiffs’ standing to sue under the Voting Rights Act, which protects against election laws that disenfranchise voters based on race.

“Plaintiffs ask this court to broaden application of the Voting Rights Act well beyond what was ever envisioned by Congress. If the plaintiffs survive [Central Health’s] standing challenge, they have an almost impossible burden to demonstrate that the Voting Rights Act provides them the opportunity to challenge the language of Proposition 1,” Yeakel said.

He said Travis County voters approved Proposition 1 by roughly 55 percent, indicating public approval for the proposition’s implementation.

In a statement released Thursday, Stephen Casey, an attorney representing the Travis County Taxpayers Union and three other plaintiffs, said two of his plaintiffs are minorities and data from the Texas Education Agency shows that Travis County suffers from illiteracy problems among minorities.

“If that is the case, a change in the voting language of a ballot proposition, far beyond what is permitted by law, can have a harmful effect on the ability of some voters to understand what is on the ballot,” Casey said.

The court is expected to rule on Central Health’s request to dismiss the case at a later date.

Printed on Friday, November 16, 2012 as: Court rejects halting Prop. 1 confirmation 

Travis County Taxpayers Union treasurer and founder Don Zimmerman (right) speaks out against Proposition 1 in front of the Federal Courthouse Wednesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Yaguang Zhu | Daily Texan Staff

A U.S. district court is expected to rule soon in a lawsuit that could deprive UT of revenue that UT officials say it needs to fund a proposed medical school and teaching hospital in Austin.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel heard arguments Wednesday in a case that claims the ballot language of an initiative Travis County voters approved Nov. 6 violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which protects against election laws that disenfranchise voters based on race. The ballot initiative, known as Proposition 1, would raise property taxes collected by Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district, contribute revenue toward operations at the teaching hospital and purchase medical services from medical school students and faculty for the general public.

The Travis County Taxpayers Union, a political action committee formed to oppose Proposition 1, and three other plaintiffs filed the suit in October. Their attorney, Stephen Casey, said Central Health violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act by including ballot language that advocated for the proposition. State law required Proposition 1 to provide the proposed tax rate, year of implementation and the rate increase, but Casey said additional language confused Michael Cargill and Mario Jordan, two plaintiffs who have low reading comprehension.

In addition to the required language, the proposition said Central Health will use increased revenue to fund “improved health care in Travis County, including support for a new medical school consistent with the mission of Central Health, a site for a new teaching hospital, trauma services, specialty medicine such as cancer care, community-wide health clinics, training for physicians, nurses and other health care professionals, primary care, behavioral and mental health care, prevention and wellness programs and/or to obtain federal matching funds for health care services.”

Casey said additional language is unnecessary because voters approved the creation of Central Health and therefore should understand its duties.

Judge Yeakel said he did not understand Casey’s distinction between voters’ ability to understand language describing the tax increase and Central Health’s mission.

“So the same people that are incapable of understanding the second half of the language on the ballot are presumed to know what the statute that created the health care district says and therefore can vote knowledgeably if the language is restricted to the first half of what was on the ballot?” Yeakel asked.

Jim Cousar, an attorney representing Central Health, said state law does not bar Central Health from including additional ballot language. He said the Voting Rights Act protects voters who do not speak English but does not account for illiteracy.

“There’s nothing in the Voting Rights Act that expressly or implicitly addresses claims based on reading comprehension,” Cousar said.

If Yeakel rules in Central Health’s favor, the tax increase will take effect Oct. 1, 2013.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel declared a city policy used to ban Occupy Austin protesters from City Hall unconstitutional this past Thursday, following suit with similar recent rulings nationwide.

The declaration from Yeakel comes as part of the final ruling in a lawsuit filed against the city by Rodolfo Sanchez and Kristopher Sleeman, two protesters with Occupy Austin. The Austin movement is a subset of the national movement, Occupy Wall Street, which promotes financial and social equality. The suit was filed by the plaintiffs in response to being banned from City Hall in October of last year, according to the order.

The overturned policy is titled Criminal Trespass Notices on City Property and addresses the rules and procedures for issuing bans from city property that often accompanies criminal trespass charges received there. The policy allows for police discretion in determining the duration of a ban. It also specifies the review and appeal process for the bans, according to the order.

Sanchez and Sleeman were both banned from City Hall following criminal trespass arrests. Because of the policy’s vagueness and appeal process, it was ruled to be an “erroneous deprivation” of First and 14th Amendment freedoms, according to the order.

The overturned policy was signed into effect last November by City Manager Marc Ott, roughly one month after Occupy Austin protesting at City Hall began, according to the order.

English graduate student Trevor Hoag has participated in protests with the Austin and UT Occupy movements and is focusing his graduate dissertation on the national movement’s struggles. He said the policy is one example of many policies passed throughout the country in regard to the Occupy movement that trample First Amendment rights. He said the policy sets a precedent that could be used to defend public freedoms for years to come.

“It shocked me deeply the way that the protesters were responded to because it seemed to be such an obvious disregard for freedom of speech and the First Amendment,” he said.

Hoag said he hopes this ruling will now be used as a precedent to dismiss other policies in order to further protect the freedom of speech that the nation was built on.

“The precedents from these cases are going to be important because the same things are going to happen again,” Hoag said. “Legal and other actions need to be taken to ensure that those actions, those protest actions, can be as successful as possible in the future. People deserve access to their full rights of speech and assembly without fear.”

The policy enacted in Febuary restricting public use of the City Hall between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. remains in effect. Hoag said he hopes the policy is overturned next so the Occupy encampment of the City Hall can resume again and the movement can gain back lost visibility.

A federal judge on Monday stopped Texas from preventing Planned Parenthood from getting funds through the state’s Women’s Health Program — a decision the state immediately appealed.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin ruled there is sufficient evidence that a law banning Planned Parenthood from the program is unconstitutional. He imposed an injunction against enforcing it until he can hear full arguments. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed Yeakel’s decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, asking that it remove
the injunction.

The law passed last year by the Republican-controlled Legislature forbids state agencies from providing funds to an organization affiliated with abortion providers. Texas law already required that groups receiving federal or state funding be legally and financially separate from clinics that perform abortions.

Eight Planned Parenthood clinics that do not provide abortions sued over the new law. The clinics say it unconstitutionally restricts their freedom of speech and association to qualify to take part in state health programs.

The judge accepted Planned Parenthood’s argument that banning the organization from the program would leave women without access to clinics for basic health services.

“The court is particularly influenced by the potential for immediate loss of access to necessary medical services by several thousand Texas women,” Yeakel wrote in his ruling. “The record before the court at this juncture reflects uncertainty as to the continued viability of the Texas Women’s Health Program.”

Texas officials have said that if the state is forced to include Planned Parenthood, they will likely shut down the program that serves basic health care and contraception to 130,000 poor women. Yeakel acknowledged that was a risk.

“The court observes that if the federal funds are phased out, Texas does not provide another source of funds, and the Women’s Health Program terminates, the controversy now before the court may be of no consequence,” he wrote.

The Women’s Health Program was established to provide care for poor women who would not otherwise qualify for Medicaid. It supplies cancer screenings, annual exams, and access to birth control.

Xelena Gonzalez of San Antonio said she received abnormal test results and needed a follow-up appointment just before the state law took effect in March, and her area Planned Parenthood clinic lost funding. She said she couldn’t afford the lab fees and other costs of going to another provider. She said she is thrilled she can return to Planned Parenthood to follow up.

“It’s a tremendous relief that someone is looking out for women,” Gonzalez said Monday, referring to the judge’s
decision. “It makes me upset that these are men, for the most part, who are making decisions affecting our reproductive health and that they would try to shame us.”

Catherine Frazier, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, said the state will pursue all legal options to keep the law.
“Texas has a long history of protecting life, and we are confident in Attorney General Abbott’s appeal to defend the will of Texans and our state law, which prohibits taxpayer funds from supporting abortion providers and affiliates in the Women’s Health Program,” Frazier said.

Patricio Gonzales, CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Hidalgo County, called on the Republican governor to stop trying to shut down Planned Parenthood in Texas.

“No woman should ever have to fear being cut off from her doctor’s care because of shortsighted political games,” Gonzales said.

Printed on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 as: Planned Parenthood wins funding court case in Texas

A federal judge on Monday stopped Texas from preventing Planned Parenthood from getting funds through the state’s Women’s Health Program — a decision the state immediately appealed.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin ruled there is sufficient evidence that a law banning Planned Parenthood from the program is unconstitutional. He imposed an injunction against enforcing it until he can hear full arguments. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed Yeakel’s decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, asking that it remove
the injunction.

The law passed last year by the Republican-controlled Legislature forbids state agencies from providing funds to an organization affiliated with abortion providers. Texas law already required that groups receiving federal or state funding be legally and financially separate from clinics that perform abortions.

Eight Planned Parenthood clinics that do not provide abortions sued over the new law. The clinics say it unconstitutionally restricts their freedom of speech and association to qualify to take part in state health programs.

The judge accepted Planned Parenthood’s argument that banning the organization from the program would leave women without access to clinics for basic health services.

“The court is particularly influenced by the potential for immediate loss of access to necessary medical services by several thousand Texas women,” Yeakel wrote in his ruling. “The record before the court at this juncture reflects uncertainty as to the continued viability of the Texas Women’s Health Program.”

Texas officials have said that if the state is forced to include Planned Parenthood, they will likely shut down the program that serves basic health care and contraception to 130,000 poor women. Yeakel acknowledged that was a risk.

“The court observes that if the federal funds are phased out, Texas does not provide another source of funds, and the Women’s Health Program terminates, the controversy now before the court may be of no consequence,” he wrote.

The Women’s Health Program was established to provide care for poor women who would not otherwise qualify for Medicaid. It supplies cancer screenings, annual exams, and access to birth control.

Xelena Gonzalez of San Antonio said she received abnormal test results and needed a follow-up appointment just before the state law took effect in March, and her area Planned Parenthood clinic lost funding. She said she couldn’t afford the lab fees and other costs of going to another provider. She said she is thrilled she can return to Planned Parenthood to follow up.

“It’s a tremendous relief that someone is looking out for women,” Gonzalez said Monday, referring to the judge’s decision. “It makes me upset that these are men, for the most part, who are making decisions affecting our reproductive health and that they would try to shame us.”

Catherine Frazier, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, said the state will pursue all legal options to keep the law.

“Texas has a long history of protecting life, and we are confident in Attorney General Abbott’s appeal to defend the will of Texans and our state law, which prohibits taxpayer funds from supporting abortion providers and affiliates in the Women’s Health Program,” Frazier said.

Patricio Gonzales, CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Hidalgo County, called on the Republican governor to stop trying to shut down Planned Parenthood in Texas.

“No woman should ever have to fear being cut off from her doctor’s care because of shortsighted political games,” Gonzales said.

Printed on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 as: Planned Parenthood wins funding court case in Texas

Rais Bhuiyan looks on outside a US District Courthouse in Austin on Wednesday as his lawyer, Khurrum Wahid, discusses Bhuiyan’s attempts to stay the execution of a man who shot him in the face and killed two others in a post 9/11 convenience store shooting spree. The inmate, Mark Stroman, was executed Wednesday evening after U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel denied Bhuiyan’s suit.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

A man convicted of killing two people in Dallas in 2001 died by lethal injection Wednesday evening, despite pleas to stay the execution from a man who survived an attack by the murderer.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel upheld the execution of convicted killer Mark Stroman on Wednesday afternoon. Yeakel said in a court order that he lacks jurisdiction to interfere with executions and the criminal justice system would be corrupted if the court granted Stroman clemency.

Rais Bhuiyan, the only survivor of Stroman’s post-9/11 shooting spree, announced a lawsuit last week against state officials claiming he was denied the right to mediation with his attacker. Bhuiyan, who was shot in the eye by Stroman while working at a Dallas gas station, said he didn’t learn he had the right to meet with his attacker until May.

Stroman, a former methamphetamine addict and white supremacist, claimed the alleged death of his half-sister in the 9/11 attacks led him to shoot three men he thought were Muslims. He killed two of them and received a death sentence for murdering Vasudev Patel, an Indian immigrant who was working at a Mesquite, Texas, gas station.

Yeakel heard from representatives of the state attorney general‘s office and Khurrum Wahid, an attorney representing Bhuiyan, at the U.S. District Court in Austin before making a decision.

“These men have been tied together for 10 years but kept apart by written law,” Wahid said. “Moving the execution date a few months isn’t really going to harm the state of Texas. It’s a stroke of a pen.”

Assistant Attorney General Cynthia Burton said in court that Bhuiyan did not have proper cause to ask courts to redraw the original order for execution and classified him as a third-party unrelated to Stroman’s murder trial. They also said the case should never have been moved from a state court, and the federal court did not have jurisdiction in cases involving execution. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a further appeal, according to The Texas Tribune.

Because the case involves an active lawsuit and pending litigation, staff in the Office of the Attorney General declined to comment.

Wahid claimed in court that Bhuiyan was not informed of his right to communicate with Stroman until May, which violates his freedom of expression. Wahid said the case is not an attempt to reverse original rulings but to address victims’ rights. He said because Bhuiyan’s decision to request mediation was based on his Muslim belief, the state is also violating his constitutionally protected freedom of religion.

Bhuiyan told The Daily Texan his religion has been his primary strength in the years following the attack and the reason behind his pleas to grant Stroman clemency. He said family members of Stroman’s other victims also feel the convicted killer deserves amnesty.

“There is a reference in the Quran that says a person who believes in tolerance and forgiveness is closer to God,” said Nadeem Akhtar whose brother-in-law, Waqar Hasan, was Stroman’s other victim. “We don’t believe in revenge.”

Bhuiyan said despite the outcome, he plans to continue to educate the public on the consequences of hate crimes. Bhuiyan said he wanted to speak to Stroman “from his heart” and felt a meeting with his shooter would be the only way to recover from the attack.

“How can I find closure if Mark is gone?” Bhuiyan said. “He will be gone from this world forever. That will put me into another trauma and open another chain of mental agony.”

Printed on 07/21/2011 as: Man executed despite plea for clemency on his behalf