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Despite Judge's Ruling, Abortion Access Becomes More Difficult in Texas

Despite Judge's Ruling, Abortion Access Becomes More Difficult in Texas

October 31, 2013 — Although a federal judge declared a key provision in a Texas antiabortion law (HB 2) unconstitutional this week, the legislation contains several other abortion restrictions that remain in effect, the American Prospect reports (Rapoport, American Prospect, 10/30).

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel issued a permanent injunction against a provision in the law that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. However, he largely upheld a second mandate that requires that physicians administer medication abortion drugs in person and follow an outdated FDA protocol, ruling that it only imposes an undue burden on women in certain instances (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/30).

In addition, the state is still implementing two provisions that were not challenged in court: a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and requirements that abortion clinics meet the same building standards as hospitals.

According to the American Prospect, Yeakel's decision to block the admitting privileges requirement but mostly uphold the medication abortion restrictions "helps to highlight what have both been ongoing trends in the abortion-rights battle." The law makes it more difficult to keep clinics open, while simultaneously requiring women to make additional visits to those clinics.

Medication Abortion Restrictions

The American Prospect explains that in the years since FDA approved medication abortion in 2000, researchers and physicians have developed safer, more-efficient protocols that use a lower dose of medication. However, the Texas law requires physicians to dispense the drugs according to the outdated FDA protocol.

In practice, this means that women will have to make at least one additional visit to the clinic; normally, women would take the second drug in the medication abortion regimen at home. Women seeking abortion care in Texas already are required to undergo an ultrasound, wait 24 hours, and then return for their first dose and possibly a follow-up visit.

Building Requirements

Only six of the state's 38 abortion clinics are expected to be able to comply with law's building requirements, which are scheduled to take effect in 2014, according to the American Prospect. The state had already lost nine clinics because of 2011 budget cuts that targeted Texas family planning providers and Planned Parenthood, while a 10th clinic remains open but has stopped providing abortions.

Meanwhile, clinics will have to wait and see whether the admitting privileges requirement will remain blocked on appeal. According to Elizabeth Nash, the state-issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, courts have struck down similar requirements in every state that has implemented them: Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wisconsin. The Texas appeal will be heard by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has approved stringent abortion restrictions before (American Prospect, 10/30).