October 1, 2015 — An abortion clinic in El Paso, Texas, reopened Tuesday after the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year temporarily blocked enforcement of part of an omnibus antiabortion-rights law (HB 2), AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Weissert, AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/29).
HB 2, 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.
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.
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.
In August, 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/19).
Clinic Reopens, But Closure Threat Remains
The El Paso clinic reopened on Tuesday, but it could be closed down again if the Supreme Court in the next few weeks opts not to review the lower court ruling in favor of HB 2 (Ura, Texas Tribune, 9/29). The clinic does not meet the law's ambulatory surgical center or admitting privileges requirements.
According to the AP/Bee, Reproductive Services currently is taking appointments and will resume performing abortions next week. It plans to care for about 2,000 patients each year. In addition to abortion care, the clinic also plans to provide contraceptive services and health exams.
Reproductive Services is the second clinic in El Paso to reopen as a result of a temporary injunction against HB 2, following Hill Top Women's Reproductive Clinic. Reproductive Services is now one of 20 licensed abortion clinics in the state, although one of the other licensed clinics said it has stopped providing abortion care. In contrast, the state in 2012 had 41 licensed abortion clinics.
DSHS spokesperson Carrie Williams said there are no other new license requests pending.
Marilyn Eldridge -- president of the entity that operates Reproductive Services -- said, "We're so excited about the reopening, but the discouraging part is we could be closed down at any time." She noted, "This is more difficult than it has ever been ... because there is so much discussion about something that should be a very personal matter" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/29).
Meanwhile, CRR President and CEO Nancy Northup said, "Reproductive Services reopening their doors means the women of El Paso and West Texas can once again access safe and legal reproductive health care options that they need and deserve," adding, "We are proud to stand with them as they bravely fight against these unrelenting attacks on abortion care in Texas" (Texas Tribune, 9/29).