National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

Federal Judge Finds Texas Abortion Clinic Restrictions Unconstitutional

Federal Judge Finds Texas Abortion Clinic Restrictions Unconstitutional

September 2, 2014 — A federal judge on Friday barred enforcement of a provision in a Texas antiabortion-rights law (HB 2) that would have closed more than a dozen of the state's remaining abortion clinics, the New York Times reports (Eckholm/Fernandez, New York Times, 8/29).

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) on Sunday filed an appeal with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Rosenthal, Houston Chronicle, 9/1).

Background

The provision was scheduled to take effect on Sept. 1 and would have required abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.

In a lawsuit filed on behalf of several abortion providers in the state, the Center for Reproductive Rights argued that the provision unconstitutionally limits women's access to abortion because it would leave Texas with fewer than 10 abortion facilities, none of which are south or west of San Antonio. Meanwhile, the state's court filings claimed that abortions are more dangerous than providers acknowledge and that the ambulatory surgical centers requirement will improve safety and patient care.

Earlier this year, a panel of three judges on the 5th Circuit upheld two other provisions in the law, ruling that they do not unduly burden abortion rights. One provision requires that abortion providers have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, while the other imposes restrictions on medication abortion. U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel temporarily blocked the admitting privileges provision last year (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/4).

Friday's Ruling

In his ruling, Yeakel wrote that the ambulatory surgical center provision "is unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on the right of women throughout Texas to seek a pre-viability abortion."

He added, "Even if the remaining clinics could meet the demand," the effects of long travel times and additional restrictions would be akin to "a complete ban on abortion."

In addition, Yeakel reissued a stay on the admitting privileges rule for two clinics -- in El Paso and McAllen, in the Rio Grande Valley -- because the restrictions would significantly reduce access to abortion in the West and South regions of the state (New York Times, 8/29). After the decision, Whole Woman's Health announced that it has reopened a clinic in McAllen (Houston Chronicle, 9/1).

Reaction

Whole Woman's Health CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller said she is pleased with Yeakel's decision, adding that "requiring every abortion clinic to turn into a surgical center is excessive and not based on good medicine" (New York Times, 8/29).

Meanwhile, Abbott called Yeakel's decision "inexplicable." He wrote in his appeal, "The district court failed even to mention (much less follow) precedent from the Supreme Court." He asked the 5th Circuit to decide on his appeal this week (Houston Chronicle, 9/1).