Appeals Court Allows Most Of Restrictive Texas Abortion Law To Go Into Effect

June 9, 2015 1:37 p.m.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has cleared the way for most of a restrictive Texas abortion law — that among other things requires clinics to meet hospital-like standards and providers to attain special credentials with local hospitals — to go into effect.

“In plain terms, H.B. 2 and its provisions may be applied throughout

Texas,” the appeals court panel said, with the exception of one clinic in McAllen, Texas, where certain provisions had previously been blocked by the Supreme Court. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, all but seven of the clinics in the state stand risk of closing.

The suit, brought by Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of independent providers in the state, was the second federal challenge to Texas’ omnibus abortion law, which passed in a special session in 2013 after then-Sen. Wendy Davis filibustered lawmakers’ initial attempts to advance it. The law mandates that clinics meet the standards required of ambulatory surgical centers, requires that providers attain special credentials known as “admitting privileges” at local hospitals, bans abortions after 20 weeks and puts restrictions on the use of medication abortion (also known as the abortion pill).

Critics say, taken together, the requirements will force a vast majority of Texas clinics to close and are not medical necessary. Only seven or eight clinics, concentrated in the state’s urban areas, would be able to keep their doors open in light of the new restrictions, abortion rights activists say, and many Texas women seeking abortions will be forced to drive many hours to receive the procedure. Before the law was passed, there were 41 abortion clinics in the state.

The challenge the appeals court weighed today took on the ambulatory surgical centers provision and admitting privileges requirement as applied to two rural abortion clinics. A district court had previously blocked both, as applied to all women seeking abortion before the point of viability, but Tuesday the three-judge appeals court panel reversed most of that decision, allowing only the clinic in McAllen to receive relief from both of those mandates.

The first federal suit challenged the medication abortion provisions and admitting privileges requirement, with the Fifth Circuit upholding both.

In a statement, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called the decision, “a vindication of the careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women.

“I am pleased with the Fifth Circuit’s decision to uphold HB 2 and the State of Texas will continue to fight for higher-quality healthcare standards for women while protecting our most vulnerable – the unborn,” he said.

The challengers now have the choice of appealing Tuesday’s decision to the Fifth Circuit’s full court of judges — known to be among the most conservative in the country — or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“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,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “Once again, women across the state of Texas face the near total elimination of safe and legal options for ending a pregnancy, and the denial of their constitutional rights.”

Read the full decision below.

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