July 8, 2015 — The Texas Department of State Health Services on Thursday announced that abortion providers in the state still are required to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, despite the Supreme Court's decision last week that partially blocked an omnibus antiabortion-rights law (HB 2), the Texas Tribune reports (Bollag/Ura, Texas Tribune, 7/2).
The case centers on a provision in the law, originally scheduled to take effect on July 1, requiring abortion clinics in the state to meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers. The case also involves whether abortion facilities in El Paso and McAllen should be exempt from a separate provision in the law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. In June, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state had a "legitimate" purpose in implementing the legislation. Specifically, the court upheld the law's ambulatory surgical centers provision and admitting privileges requirements except in the case of one clinic, Whole Woman's Health in McAllen, Texas.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the abortion providers, on June 11 asked the 5th Circuit to stay the decision while the clinics appeal to the Supreme Court. The 5th Circuit rejected the request. CRR then filed an emergency request with the Supreme Court to stay the lower court ruling and allow the clinics to remain open pending CRR's appeal.
Last week, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to temporarily block HB 2's ambulatory surgical center requirement from taking effect until the high court decides whether to review the case. Abortion-rights opponents and supporters were assessing whether the order also blocks the admitting privileges requirement (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/30).
DSHS spokesperson Carrie Williams said the Supreme Court order only applies to the provision requiring abortion clinics to meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers.
She said only physicians at the clinics in El Paso and McAllen are exempt from the law's admitting privileges requirement. According to Williams, if a doctor at one of the other clinics performs abortions without hospital admitting privileges, the state "would cite the issue and refer it to the Texas Medical Board."
In response to the announcement, CRR attorney Stephanie Toti said CRR is "studying the Supreme Court's order to determine its impact." She added, "We are hopeful that it may allow some of the clinics that had been previously closed due to the state's admitting privileges requirements to reopen" (Texas Tribune, 7/2).