March 28, 2014 — The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld two contested provisions in a Texas antiabortion-rights law (HB 2), ruling that the restrictions do not unduly burden women, the New York Times reports (Eckholm, New York Times, 3/27).
In October, the appeals court ruled that a provision in the law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, as well as a second provision that would require a physician to be present when administering medication abortion, could take effect while the case was appealed.
The next month, the Supreme Court declined an emergency application filed by women's health care providers to block the law (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/7).
A three-judge panel issued a unanimous decision in favor of the state, finding that the rules are constitutional because the state's objective was to protect abortion patients' health and the plaintiffs did not adequately demonstrate that the rules excessively burdened women.
The judges wrote that the state's "articulation of rational legislative objectives, which was backed by evidence placed before the state legislature, easily supplied a connection between the admitting-privileges rule and the desirable protection of abortion patients' health" (Aaronson, Texas Tribune, 3/27).
The judges added that the admitting privileges rule "would also promote the continuity of care in all cases, reducing the risk of injury caused by miscommunication and misdiagnosis when a patient is transferred from one health care provider to another."
However, the judges did decide to allow clinics that have applied for admitting privileges but not yet received confirmation to continue offering abortion care (Herskovitz, Reuters, 3/27).
The ruling in favor of the state was not surprising because the 5th Circuit is a conservative court and previously signaled it likely would uphold the law, the Times reports (New York Times, 3/27).
According to the Texas Tribune, there were 40 licensed abortion providers in the state in August, before the rules took effect. There are now 28 licensed abortion providers, but just 24 still offer abortion care.
The law also includes other provisions that have not been challenged in court, including a 20-week abortion ban and requirements that all abortion facilities meet ambulatory surgical center requirements.
The number of operational abortion clinics in the state likely will drop to six when those provisions take effect in September, according to the Tribune.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said in a statement, "Today's court decision is good news for Texas women and the unborn, and we will continue to fight for the protection of life and women's health in Texas."
Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards pledged to continue fighting the legislation, stating, "We will combat these laws in the courts, and our separate political arm will mobilize voters to replace lawmakers who champion these dangerous laws in the first place."
Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, said the law is having a "devastating impact" on Texas women. "Texas women deserve better than to have extremist politicians endanger their health and safety by preventing them from accessing safe and legal abortion," she added (Texas Tribune, 3/27).
Meanwhile, Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup said admitting privileges, in Texas or other states, "is an issue that is hurtling its way toward the Supreme Court" (New York Times, 3/27).