Court Decision Protects Abortion Access for Most Women in Texas, But Upholds Restrictions on Medication Abortion

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Ruling blocks provision that would have made safe, legal abortion non-existent for one in three Texas women
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(PRESS RELEASE) After a three day trial, a federal court today permanently struck down one provision of a recently enacted, deeply unpopular law—a measure that would have made safe and legal abortion services for one-third of women in Texas virtually impossible to access.

While U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel blocked implementation of a requirement that all abortion providers obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, today’s ruling has allowed another harmful measure to take effect on October 29—one that severely restricts the use of medication abortion, a safe and effective method to end an early pregnancy.

More than a dozen women’s health care providers, who jointly filed suit last month on behalf of their patients are currently considering options to protect women’s health in face of this ruling.The providers who filed the lawsuit Planned Parenthood v. Abbott are represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, and the firm George Brothers Kincaid &, Horton. 

“Today’s decision has averted a catastrophic health crisis for women across the state of Texas,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Politicians, not doctors, pushed for both of these unconstitutional restrictions—despite the best medical standards for women’s health care. We are committed to standing with Texas health care providers and our partners in taking every necessary step to ensure all women in Texas have the same rights and access to essential health care as women living in other states.”

In blocking the law’s admitting privileges requirement, today’s court order protects access to safe and legal abortion services for women living in vast stretches of Texas—including areas surrounding Ft. Worth, Harlingen, Killeen, Lubbock, McAllen, and Waco—where one-third of the state’s licensed health centers would have had to immediately halt providing abortions if that part of the law were allowed to take effect. 

As Judge Yeakel explained in his ruling, “admitting privileges have no rational relationship to improved patient care" and place “an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion.”

But by upholding the law’s restrictions on medication abortion, physicians in Texas will now be forced 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.

“Today’s ruling marks an important victory for Texas women and sends a clear message to lawmakers:  it is unconstitutional for politicians to pass laws that take personal, private decisions away from women and their doctors. While this ruling protects access to safe and legal abortion for women in many parts of the state, part of this ruling will make it impossible for many women to access medication abortion, which is safe and effective early in pregnancy," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.  "Planned Parenthood nurses and doctors are taking every step we can to ensure that women in Texas have access to the highest quality health care no matter where they live."

The provisions that were ruled on today were part of a package of legislation signed by Governor Rick Perry on July 18 following a series of special legislative sessions, but opposed by 80 percent of Texas voters, according to a poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. Medical experts in Texas and across the country, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Texas Medical Association, and Texas Hospital Association, also publicly opposed provisions in the law because they provide no medical benefit to women and will actually jeopardize women’s health and safety.

“The court was right to strike the admitting privileges provision.  It is unconstitutional and it would have shut down women’s health centers throughout the state,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the ACLU. “We are disappointed by the ruling on the medication abortion restriction, which ignores accepted medical practice and will force providers to use less safe methods. But we will continue to fight and explore every option to protect women’s health.”

Courts have blocked similar provisions in other states across the country. Admitting privileges requirements aimed at shutting down all or most of the abortion providers in Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Wisconsin have been halted before they took effect. State courts in North Dakota and Oklahoma have permanently struck down unconstitutional restrictions on medication abortion.