The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has upheld some of the most harmful provisions of Texas’ far-reaching and extreme clinic shutdown law, putting most abortion clinics in the state at risk of closure.
Today’s decision allows the state’s requirement that every reproductive health care facility offering abortion services meet the same hospital-like building standards as an ambulatory surgical center (ASC) to go into effect in twenty two days for nearly all clinics in the state—a measure that amounts to a multi-million dollar tax on abortion services and would close most abortion providers in the state. While the court partially enjoined the ASC requirement as applied to the last clinic in the Rio Grande Valley, its injunction is so narrow that it may be of little practical benefit to the clinic or the women it serves.
The ruling also reverses the lower court’s injunction blocking the state’s admitting privileges requirement except as applied to a single doctor. This provision has already forced approximately half the state’s abortion clinics to close their doors.
The court said that women in El Paso—who will face a round-trip of over a thousand miles to obtain an abortion in Texas—could travel to New Mexico to access their constitutional right to safe and legal abortion, where there are no ASC or admitting privileges requirements
The Center for Reproductive Rights and the Texas women’s health care providers today announced their plans to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Not since before Roe v. Wade has a law or court decision had the potential to devastate access to reproductive health care on such a sweeping scale.
“Once again, women across the state of Texas face elimination of safe and legal options for ending a pregnancy, and the denial of their constitutional rights.
“The Supreme Court’s prior rulings do not allow for this kind of broadside legislative assault on women’s rights and health care. We now look to the Justices to stop the sham laws that are shutting clinics down and placing countless women at risk of serious harm.”
Said Amy Hagstrom Miller, Founder, President and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health:
“With this ruling today, the justice system and our elected politicians put a road full of unnecessary hurdles in front of every woman in Texas who has decided to end her pregnancy. For scores of Texas women, the repercussions of this ruling will be devastating. Ending a pregnancy could mean travelling hundreds of miles and overcoming needless hurdles such as additional costs, childcare, time off, and immigration checkpoints. This is simply unacceptable. Whole Woman’s Health will fight this fight and take our case all the way to the Supreme Court in order to get justice for all Texans.”
Today’s decision comes eight months after the Fifth Circuit allowed the ASC requirement to immediately take effect by staying a lower court’s injunction of the law. It had previously allowed the admitting-privileges requirement to take effect. For 12 days, all but seven reproductive health care facilities in the state were prevented from offering safe and legal abortion services—until October 14, 2014, when the United State Supreme Court responded to an emergency application by Texas health care providers and reinstated the injunction, allowing many of the previously closed clinics to reopen their doors.
This is the Center for Reproductive Rights’ second challenge to Texas’ House Bill 2 (HB2), a sweeping package of anti-choice legislation that was passed in 2013. The first suit—filed in September 2013—challenged the law’s unconstitutional admitting privileges requirement statewide and the law’s outdated restrictions on medication abortion. These provisions were ultimately upheld by an appellate court panel andrefused a rehearing by the entire Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Major medical groups oppose the types of restrictions found in Texas’ clinic shutdown law. The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently submitted a joint amicus brief opposing the law, stating that “H.B. 2 does not serve the health of women in Texas but instead jeopardizes women’s health by restricting access to abortion providers.” Medical experts confirm that legal abortion care in the U.S. is extremely safe, with less than 1 percent of patients requiring care in an emergency room.
The clinics and physicians in this challenge are represented by Stephanie Toti and David Brown of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a team of attorneys from the law firm Morrison & Foerster led by J. Alexander Lawrence, and Austin attorneys Jan Soifer and Patrick O’Connell of the law firm O’Connell & Soifer
Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women’s Health Protection Act (S. 217/HR. 448)—a bill that would prohibit states like Texas from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services. Elected officials in Austinand Houston have called for the repeal of HB2 and the passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act.