August 19, 2015 — A federal judge on Monday said Texas health officials could be held in contempt of court unless they stop enforcing an antiabortion-rights law (HB 2) preventing an abortion provider in the state from opening a clinic at a new location, the Houston Chronicle reports.
HB 2, an omnibus antiabortion-rights law passed in Texas in 2013, prohibits abortion after 20 weeks' gestation, restricts the use of medication abortion, requires abortion clinics to meet the building standards of ambulatory surgical centers and mandates that abortion providers have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals (Rosenthal, Houston Chronicle, 8/18).
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed suit against certain provisions in the law, including the ambulatory surgical center requirements and whether abortion clinics in El Paso and McAllen should be exempt from the law's admitting privileges requirement.
In June, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law's ambulatory surgical center provision and admitting privileges requirements except in the case of the McAllen clinic, Whole Woman's Health. CRR then appealed to the Supreme Court, which later that month put a temporary hold on the ambulatory surgical center requirement while weighing whether to hear the case. There was debate as to whether the Supreme Court order also blocked the law's admitting privileges requirement (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/30).
According to the Chronicle, the physician at the El Paso clinic, Reproductive Services, was unable to obtain admitting privileges after HB 2 took effect, leading the clinic to stop performing abortions and end its lease in spring 2014. Following the Supreme Court order, the clinic's owner tried to open the clinic at a new location but was barred from doing so by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Texas health officials told the clinic owner that the Supreme Court order did not apply because the clinic would be opening in a new location.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel told DSHS to stop enforcing the law against the provider, noting that the state was incorrect to say that the hold does not apply to the clinic at the new location. Yeakel wrote, "Failure to comply with this Order shall subject (state officials) to sanctions for contempt of court."
DSHS spokesperson Carrie Williams said state officials will comply with the order, which means the clinic likely will be able to open. "We had asked for clarification from the court, given the company had relinquished its previous license and would be operating at a new location," she said, adding, "We received the clarification and are complying" (Houston Chronicle, 8/18).