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Abortion Clinics Could Close After Court Rules Texas Restrictions Are Constitutional

Tough new restrictions on abortion providers in Texas can now go into effect following a long-awaited court ruling. About nine clinics – including at least one in Houston – may have to shut their doors at the end of June, unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes.

The-Houston Women's Clinic-
The Houston Women’s Clinic is one of nine clinics that could close because its building does not meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers.

 

If the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t step in, Texas could be left with only eight places to get an abortion. All would be in the major cities, except for one in McAllen whose future is uncertain.

The law in question passed in 2013, despite a much-publicized filibuster attempt by then state senator Wendy Davis, a Democrat who later ran for governor.

House Bill 2 required clinics that provide abortion to meet the same facility standards as ambulatory surgery centers. It also mandated that the doctors doing the abortion get admitting privileges from a nearby hospital. But enforcement wasn’t yet fully in effect because the law has been tied up in the courts since it passed.

Now a decision handed down Tuesday from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans brings the last major lawsuit to a close. The ruling says the requirements in the law are constitutional. Clinics will have about three weeks to comply or close.

Attorney General Ken Paxton cheered the decision. He refused a request for an interview, but issued a statement saying the law “protects the unborn” and ensures that abortion is safe for women.

“Abortion practitioners should have no right to operate their businesses from substandard facilities, and with doctors who lack admitting privileges at a hospital,” the statement said. “This ruling will help protect the health and well-being of Texas women.”

Nine or ten clinics are expected to close because they don’t meet the new standards and can’t afford the upgrades needed to become an ambulatory surgical center. One of them is near downtown Houston. Some of the others are in El Paso, San Antonio and Fort Worth.

There are only seven abortion clinics in Texas that do meet the standards of surgery centers. There are two in Houston, two in Dallas, one in Fort Worth, one in Austin and one in San Antonio. (Planned Parenthood is currently building a new ambulatory surgery center in San Antonio, but it’s not open yet.)

Women who live in rural areas will face additional burdens getting the procedure, said Heathy Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas.

“Getting an appointment is going to be so much harder, (and) if you live outside the major cities you’re going to have to travel. It’s going to get more expensive.”

Busby says the court’s decision relied on ideology, and there was no evidence that the existing clinics were unsafe.

“This has nothing to do with health and safety, and it has everything to do with making abortion care inaccessible,” she said. “What the state of Texas is doing is creating a black market for unsafe abortion, and it’s completely a shame.”

The judges did carve out an exception for a clinic in McAllen. It’s not an ambulatory surgery center, but the judges ruled it can keep operating since it’s the only one left in the Rio Grande Valley. If it closed, women would have to drive all the way to San Antonio for an abortion.

Anti-abortion groups praised the ruling. Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for Texas Right to Life, said Texas will lead the way for other states.

“This is how the pro-life movement, pro-life laws tend to work,” Horne said. “We had a federal challenge — obviously that always happens when we have a pro-life law passed — but because it was also pretty forcefully upheld, that gives a lot of license for other states to say, ‘Well, this was held constitutional. This is something that we can do.’”

Stephanie Toti, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, filed the lawsuit on behalf of some of the Texas clinics. She said she will take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Countless Texas women will face a choice between traveling hundreds of miles, perhaps out of state; carrying to term; or seeking potentially dangerous abortion options outside the law,” she said. “This is exactly why we are bringing this fight back to the Supreme Court.”

The U.S. Supreme Court could issue an emergency stay, which would allow the clinics to remain open during an appeal. A full appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court could come from Texas, or from one of several other states that have recently enacted laws targeting clinics and how they operate.

 

The Ruling

 

5th Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling on Texas Abortion Law (PDF)

5th Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling on Texas Abortion Law (Text)

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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