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Texas Clinics Juggle Appointments After HB 2 Ruling; Supreme Court Review Expected

Texas Clinics Juggle Appointments After HB 2 Ruling; Supreme Court Review Expected

October 6, 2014 — Texas abortion clinics that were forced to close down or suspend services after a federal appeals court panel lifted a hold against a Texas antiabortion-rights law (HB 2) have been trying to contact women with previously scheduled appointments to cancel or reschedule, the Washington Post reports (Somashekhar, Washington Post, 10/3).

An HB 2 provision that was originally scheduled to take effect on Sept. 1 requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards at ambulatory surgical centers.

U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel in August barred enforcement of the provision, but a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the hold on Thursday. The ruling resulted in the closure of more than a dozen of the state's remaining abortion clinics and left many women in the state hundreds of miles away from the nearest abortion provider (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/3).

Several Women Showing Up to Clinics

According to the Post, a Whole Woman's Health clinic in McAllen had between 35 and 40 abortion procedures scheduled for this past weekend, while a Whole Woman's Health clinic in Fort Worth had 70 to 100 procedures scheduled.

Whole Woman's Health CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller said staff at both clinics began reaching out to patients and physicians following the court's ruling to notify them the facilities would no longer provide abortions for the time being. However, the facilities have not been able to get in contact with everyone, and some women have been arriving at the clinics without knowledge of the court's ruling.

Women who showed up to the McAllen clinic were notified that the nearest facility offering abortions was about 250 miles away in San Antonio (Washington Post, 10/3). Some women had to wait several hours in an attempt to schedule their appointments elsewhere, some of which had to be rescheduled for weeks later, according to the New York Times (Tillman/Eckholm, New York Times, 10/3).

According to the AP/Sacramento Bee, some women in the state have been referred to clinics in New Mexico (Crary/Carlos Llorca, AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/3). Meanwhile, others have inquired about receiving abortion services in Mexico (New York Times, 10/3).

Whole Woman's Health officials said the McAllen clinic would stay open as a "safe house" for women continuing to seek abortion services (AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/3). Miller said, "The need for care in the valley remains. Women are coming to our doors asking for assistance, and we'll do our best to help women get the help they deserve" (New York Times, 10/3).

Abortion-Rights Groups Expect Supreme Court Review

In related news, abortion-rights supporters expect the Supreme Court to eventually review HB 2, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/3).

The current ruling is temporary and could potentially be reversed as the underlying case moves forward, but the appeals court wrote that the state would likely prevail in a full appeal. The state's abortion providers said they are considering their legal options, including asking the full 5th Circuit to hear the case or appealing the decision to the Supreme Court (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/3).

Center for Reproductive Rights President and CEO Nancy Northup said, "This case is ultimately going to end up with the Supreme Court," adding, "It is going to be a showdown ... on whether the promise of Roe [v. Wade] will have meaning in the United States."

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards added, "Texas is an incredible cautionary tale of what these kind of restrictions lead to when you start putting politics ahead of women's health. I hope the Supreme Court is watching carefully what the impact is on real women's lives" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/3).

Op-Ed: HB 2 Imposes a Clear 'Undue Burden'

The idea that HB 2 protects women's health is "[h]ogwash," Ruth Marcus writes in a Washington Post opinion piece, adding, "If anything, the law endangers women by making access to abortion more difficult, leading to later-term -- and consequently riskier -- procedures."

Marcus notes that the recent rulings allowing the law's requirements to take effect "mean that about one in six Texas women seeking an abortion will live more than 150 miles from the nearest clinic" and that there will be no abortion clinics in a "huge swath of the state west and south of San Antonio." Meanwhile, the remaining clinics attempting to handle the "resulting demand ... would have to quadruple the number of abortions performed in order to keep up," she writes, adding, "Tell me again: This is about women's health?"

Marcus concludes, "In the Texas case, the appeals court got it dangerously wrong. Scarier still is imagining what the [Supreme Court] might do if called on, once again, to rule on abortion and undue burdens" (Marcus, Washington Post, 10/3).