Following today’s order by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit staying a federal district court decision from August 2014 permanently blocking provisions of a far-reaching and extreme Texas law, all but seven reproductive health care facilities offering abortions will be forced to close immediately—meaning nearly one million Texas women will soon face a minimum of a 300 mile roundtrip to access their constitutional right to an abortion.
Today’s ruling allows the state’s requirement that every reproductive health care facility offering abortion services meet the same building requirements as an ambulatory surgical center (ASC) to go into effect immediately—a provision which amounts to a multi-million dollar tax on abortion services and will close all but seven abortion providers in the state.
The ruling also stays the district court’s injunction against the admitting privileges requirement as it applies to two of the state’s hardest-hit communities in the Rio Grande Valley and West Texas—a provision that has already closed approximately half the state’s abortion clinics.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and the women's health care providers are currently considering all available options to protect women's health in the face of this ruling.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Today's ruling has gutted Texas women's constitutional rights and access to critical reproductive health care and stands to make safe, legal abortion essentially disappear overnight.
“It is an endorsement of politicians\' disingenuous tactic of undermining women's safety under the false pretext of protecting it, and of their unconstitutional intrusions into the personal, private decisions of every woman and family facing an unintended pregnancy.
"All Texas women have been relegated today to a second class of citizens whose constitutional rights are lesser than those in states less hostile to reproductive autonomy, and women facing difficult economic circumstances will be particularly hard hit by this devastating blow.
“Absolutely no woman’s rights or access to essential reproductive health care should be determined by her zip code. We will continue fighting on every front to put a stop to these assaults and defend every woman’s right to the full range of safe, legal reproductive health care.”
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 last summer. The first suit—filed in September 2013—challenged the law’s unconstitutional admitting privileges requirement as it applies to all clinics in the state, as well as its onerous restrictions on medication abortion. These provisions were ultimately upheld by a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and now the plaintiffs await a decision on whether the full appeals court will rehear the case.
The clinics and physicians in this challenge are represented by Stephanie Toti, Esha Bhandari, 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.
Major medical groups oppose the types of restrictions found in Texas’ HB2. Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) oppose hospital admitting privileges as a requirement for physicians providing abortion services. Medical experts confirm that legal abortion care in the U.S. is extremely safe, with fewer than 1 percent of patients requiring treatment at a hospital. ACOG also opposes the imposition of medically unnecessary facility requirements on abortion providers.
Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's 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. Elected officials in two Texas cities—Austin and Houston—have called for the repeal of HB2 and the passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act.