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Abortion Services To Resume in Texas Region; Access Remains In Flux After Court Ruling

Abortion Services To Resume in Texas Region; Access Remains In Flux After Court Ruling

September 4, 2014 — A McAllen, Texas, women's health clinic that was the only abortion provider in the Rio Grande Valley before state restrictions forced it to stop providing abortions last year plans to resume abortion procedures by this weekend, after a favorable ruling last week in an ongoing court fight over a state antiabortion-rights law (HB2), the New York Times reports (Eckholm, New York Times, 9/3).

In the ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel reissued a stay to block the state from enforcing one of the law's provisions against the McAllen clinic and an additional clinic in El Paso. The judge said the provision, which requires abortion providers in the state to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, would significantly reduce access to abortion in the West and South regions of the state because clinics could not meet the requirement.

Yeakel's ruling also barred enforcement of a provision -- which was scheduled to take effect on Sept. 1 -- that would have required abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/2).

The state argues that the requirement, along with the admitting privileges provision, makes clinics safer. Medical experts and the groups and clinics challenging the law say the requirements do not serve a medical purpose.

Impact of HB 2

About a dozen of the remaining 19 clinics that provide abortions in Texas would have had to close if the ambulatory surgical center standards were enforced, according to the Times (New York Times, 9/3).

The McAllen clinic -- a branch of Whole Woman's Health -- stopped performing abortion procedures in November, after the admitting privileges requirement took effect, and closed in March (Herskovitz, Reuters, 9/3). According to clinic CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller, the clinic had been performing more than 40 to 45 abortions a week. She said that when the clinic stopped providing abortions, some women had to travel nearly 500 miles roundtrip to be able to obtain an abortion in Texas (Weber, AP/U-T San Diego, 9/3).

Next Steps

Attorneys for both sides will be back in court on Sept. 12, when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the state's request to enforce the ambulatory surgical centers provision while it appeals Yeakel's ruling that found it unconstitutional.

According to the Texas Tribune, both sides in the lawsuit also are questioning how to interpret Yeakel's ruling on the admitting privileges provision beyond the two clinics in McAllen and El Paso. In court filings, the state argues that it should be allowed to enforce the provision during the appeals process and that Yeakel's decision "appears to be intended" to invalidate the provision statewide (Ura, Texas Tribune, 9/3).