June 30, 2015 — The Supreme Court on Monday voted 5-4 to temporarily block certain provisions in a Texas omnibus antiabortion-rights law (HB 2) from taking effect, allowing the remaining clinics in the state to stay open until the high court decides whether to review the case, the New York Times reports (Liptak/Fernandez, New York Times, 6/29).
A lower court ruling to uphold parts of the law was scheduled to take effect on July 1. If they had taken effect, about 50% of the remaining abortion clinics in the state could have been at risk of closing.
The case centers on a provision in the law that requires abortion clinics in the state to meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers. The case also involves whether abortion facilities in El Paso and McAllen should be exempt from a separate provision in the law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
Earlier this month, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state had a "legitimate" purpose in implementing the legislation. Specifically, the court upheld the law's ambulatory surgical centers provision and admitting privileges requirements except in the case of one clinic, Whole Woman's Health in McAllen, Texas.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the abortion providers, on June 11 asked the 5th Circuit to stay the decision while the clinics appeal to the Supreme Court. The 5th Circuit rejected the request. CRR then filed an emergency request with the Supreme Court to stay the lower court ruling and allow the clinics to remain open pending CRR's appeal (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/22).
According to the AP/Sacramento Bee, the Supreme Court order temporarily blocks HB 2's ambulatory surgical center requirement from taking effect until the high court decides whether to review the case. Abortion-rights opponents and supporters currently are assessing whether the order also blocks the admitting privileges requirement (Sherman/Vertuno, AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/29).
The high court is not expected to release a decision before the fall. However, according to AP/ABC 13 Eyewitness News, the Supreme Court's order to block the law indicates that it is likely the justices will agree to review the overall case.
Meanwhile, the high court has yet to issue a decision about whether it will review a separate case involving an admitting privileges requirement (HB 1390) in Mississippi (AP/ABC 13 Eyewitness News, 6/29).
Implications for Providers
Providers in Texas are assessing whether the order will allow some clinics that have already shut down under the law to reopen, although providers caution that reopening the clinics might pose difficulties, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.
Amy Hagstrom Miller -- CEO of Whole Woman's Health, one of the plaintiffs -- noted that reopening the clinics in Austin and Beaumont, which closed under the law's building requirements, would require new licensure, staff and equipment, all of which would necessitate fundraising. She noted that it would be difficult to fundraise if the centers still risk closure under the law, saying, "Reopening a clinic without knowing how long is very unpredictable ... But the need is still there" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/29).
Meanwhile, CRR attorney Stephanie Toti said some of the clinics that were closed under the law's admitting privileges requirement also might be able to reopen (AP/ABC 13 Eyewitness News, 6/29). However, she noted that while clinics are "hopeful" about reopening, "some of those clinics have been closed for so long" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/29).
Hagstrom Miller praised the high court's ruling, saying, "We're relieved that the high court has, once again, prevented anti-choice politicians from pushing safe and affordable abortion care entirely out of reach for Texas women."
Meanwhile, CRR President and CEO Nancy Northup urged the Supreme Court to review the case. "This case presents a very, very dramatic impact in the type of restrictions on access to abortion clinics that we've seen over the past few years," she said, adding, "If this case is not taken by the Supreme Court, it's going to allow a continuation of the closing of clinics by these sneaky, underhanded methods" (New York Times, 6/29).
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said, "We are grateful the Supreme Court has stepped in to protect women's access to safe, legal abortion, for now." She added, "This dangerous law never should have passed in the first place -- which is why we need to elect leaders who will champion women's health and rights" (PPAF press release, 6/29).
Separately, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) expressed disappointment with the ruling (New York Times, 6/29).