Texas Facing $4.5 Million Legal Bill in U.S. Supreme Court Fight Over Unconstitutional Clinic Shutdown Law
Center for Reproductive Rights entitled to costs after high court strikes down sham abortion restrictions
(PRESS RELEASE) The Center for Reproductive Rights today filed a request for more than $4.5 million in legal fees accrued during its court battle with the state of Texas over abortion restrictions that were struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in June.
The request covers expenses accumulated by the nonprofit Center for Reproductive Rights and its pro bono co-counsel during more than two years of litigation in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The case challenged a Texas sham law designed to shut down most of the abortion clinics in the state.
The Supreme Court’s historic June 27 decision declared Texas’ law unconstitutional and reaffirmed a woman’s constitutional right to access safe, legal abortion.
The medically unnecessary restrictions were part of HB2, a 2013 law that threatened to close 80 percent of the 40-plus abortion clinics in the state. Many of the shuttered clinics remain closed, exacerbating an already dire women’s health care crisis in Texas, where family planning budgets have been slashed and the maternal mortality rate has doubled to become the worst in the developed world.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Time and again, politicians in Texas have proven to be as reckless with taxpayer dollars as they are with the health and well-being of the people they serve.
“Our nonprofit attorneys and pro bono co-counsel dedicated thousands of hours to fighting Texas’ blatantly unconstitutional law.
“The substantial expense of successfully bringing this fight to the U.S. Supreme Court is just one consequence of Texas’ decision to defend this sham law, which denied women their basic rights and shuttered clinics that are still struggling to reopen.”
Texas has continued to attack women’s reproductive health with medically unnecessary restrictions, despite the Supreme Court’s clear rejection of sham laws. Just four days after the high court ruling, the Abbott administration proposed new regulations that would force healthcare providers serving women who seek abortion, treatment for miscarriage, or removal of an ectopic pregnancy to bury or cremate the embryonic or fetal tissue resulting from these procedures — regardless of the woman’s personal wishes or religious beliefs.
The case challenged two medically unnecessary provisions of the 2013 Texas law House Bill 2 (HB 2). The first provision required that all abortion providers obtain local hospital admitting privileges. The second provision required every licensed abortion facility to meet the same hospital-like building standards as an ambulatory surgical center (ASC), which amounts to millions of dollars in medically unnecessary facility renovations.
Following a lawsuit brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Morrison and Foerster on behalf of Whole Woman’s Health and several other Texas abortion providers in April 2014, a federal district court blocked the ambulatory surgical center requirement and the admitting privileges requirement.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed that decision in large part on October 2, 2014, allowing the requirements to immediately take effect. On October 14, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the trial court injunction in large part, allowing many of the previously closed clinics to reopen their doors while the state’s appeal moved forward.
On June 9, 2015, the Fifth Circuit’s final decision in the appeal once again upheld the state restrictions in substantial part, this time threatening to shutter all but 10 abortion clinics in the state. Once again, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to block the Fifth Circuit’s decision and allow many of the clinics to remain open while the legal challenge continued.
The Texas abortion providers asked the U.S Supreme Court to review the case in September 2015, a diverse group of medical and public health organizations, state attorneys general, and leading legal scholars urged the U.S. Supreme Court to accept the case a month later. On November 13, 2015, the nation’s highest court agreed to review Texas’ clinic shutdown law.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the restrictions on June 27th. The court’s decisive rejection of deceptive clinic shutdown laws marks the most significant abortion-related ruling from the Court in more than two decades, and will have a significant national impact in states where similar laws threaten to shutter abortion clinics with medically unnecessary red tape.