Fifth Circuit Ruling Deepens Health Crisis Facing Texas Women by Continuing to Deny Texas Women Safe, Legal Abortion Services

(PRESS RELEASE)  Failing to protect the lives and health of thousands of Texas women with virtually no access to safe and legal abortion services, today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed a federal district court order blocking a provision of HB2 that has forced abortion providers across the state to stop providing abortions or close altogether since October 2013.

Today’s decision will continue to force doctors that perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, with the very narrow exception for any physician who is still in the process of applying for privileges—but would do nothing for those physicians if they are ultimately denied. 

Furthermore, today’s decision also allows the law’s restrictions on medication abortion to remain in effect, which forces physicians in Texas to go against years of research and their professional experience by requiring their patients to follow an inferior, outdated, and less effective protocol for medication abortion. The law severely limits the number of women eligible to choose this method to end an early pregnancy, eliminating the option entirely for many women while imposing unnecessary burdens on women who could still use medication abortion.

HB2 is opposed by both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). In an amicus brief filed in the case, the organizations write that the law “jeopardizes women’s health in Texas,” doing “nothing to protect the health of women.”

More than a dozen women’s health care providers who jointly filed suit in September 2013 on behalf of their patients are currently considering all available options to put an end to this serious health crisis.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“The Fifth Circuit has turned a blind eye to the very real and devastating consequences that this law has had on thousands of Texas women, erecting barriers to abortion so high that women are simply left with no legal or safe options.

“Right now, the state of Texas is gutting the constitutional protections afforded by Roe v. Wade more than 40 years ago, leaving large swaths of Texas left without a provider.

“We remain committed to standing with Texas health care providers, Texas women, and our partners in considering every necessary step to end this health crisis and restore the essential health care that has been unconstitutionally stripped away.”

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel struck down the admitting privileges provision as unconstitutional in October 2013, and ruling that it " lacks a rational basis and places an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion.”

The provision later took effect on October 31 after a decision by the Fifth Circuit to stay a lower court’s injunction, thus requiring all abortion providers obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital—a measure that has closed health centers across the state, including two high quality reproductive health care clinics earlier this month which provided abortion care in the Rio Grande Valley and West Texas.  The U.S. Supreme Court later refused to reinstate the injunction.

The lawsuit, Planned Parenthood v. Abbot, was jointly filed on September 27 on behalf of more than a dozen Texas health care providers and their patients by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Texas law firm George Brothers Kincaid & Horton. 

Harmful and unconstitutional bans like these further underscore the need for the federal Women Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471)—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.