In a sweeping, yet potentially short-lived blow to tough Texas abortion restrictions, a federal judge Friday blocked the law’s key provision requiring abortion clinics to adhere to the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.
Citing “undue burdens” on women seeking abortions, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel stood with pro-abortion proponents in a decision that halted the last portion of House Bill 2, the law responsible for shuttering abortion clinics across the state. The Texas provision would have forced more than half of the state’s remaining abortion clinics, which fail to meet the medical and structural standards required under H.B.2., to shut their doors.
Signed into law by Governor Rick Perry in July 2013, H.B. 2 effectively reduced the state’s abortion rate and cut the number of Texas abortion clinics from 40 to 19. The provision, which was set to go into effect September 1, would have axed the number of abortion clinics even further–only seven facilities were expected to withstand standards that would have protected women from health risks associated with botched abortions.
In an opinion, Yeakel said the Lone Star state is at a “tipping point” in regards to abortion access restrictions, asserting that the provision would further affect the ability of impoverished or minority women to obtain an abortion procedure.
“The court is firmly convinced that the State has placed unreasonable obstacles in the path of a woman’s ability to obtain a previability abortion,” Yeakel said.
The case is likely to be ultimately heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
During oral arguments earlier this month, pro-abortion proponents asserted that the final provision would have left areas west or south of San Antonio without abortion providers; however, state attorneys contended that there was no evidence to prove that the restrictions placed an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions.
Portions of H.B.2 protecting pre-born children and women’s health are currently in effect. Last year, Judge Yeakel sought to block the H.B.2 admitting privilege requirement, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals quickly rebuked the federal judge and reversed his decision. Abortion providers lost a previous challenge against a H.B.2 provision requiring abortionists to obtain hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of an abortion clinic, but Yeakel’s ruling grants two abortion clinics an exception to the hospital admittance privilege requirement.
“We are disappointed that the court did not uphold House Bill 2 in its entirety,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life. “This means that beginning Sept. 1, women considering abortion will not receive all of the protections from threats to their health and safety that were intended by the Legislature and Governor [Rick] Perry.”
State attorney general and pro-life advocate, Greg Abbot, vows to appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
“The state disagrees with the court’s ruling and will seek immediate relief from the Fifth Circuit,” said Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for Abbot.
The lawsuit against Texas’ abortion restrictions was initiated by the Center for Reproductive Rights and championed by abortion clinics, which argue that the law poses medically unnecessary regulations on abortion providers. However, the H.B. 2 prohibition on abortions after 20 weeks passed uncontested by Planned Parenthood. The late-term abortion provision of the law protects children who, according to medical research, feel pain after 20 weeks.
But Planned Parenthood and pro-abortion groups have not remained quiet in Texas. The abortion giant has been busy filling the coffers of pro-abortion gubernatorial candidate, Wendy Davis, who is challenging Mr. Abbott. The race for Texas governor is set to be a feisty battle in which Planned Parenthood and pro-abortion groups are deeply invested.
Davis thrust the Texas abortion law into national spotlight last year after her long filibuster against the legislation made headlines. The bill stalled, but eventually passed the state Legislature. Abbot, however, defends H.B. 2, and says the law places no unconstitutional burden on women seeking abortions. He contends that almost 90 percent of Texas women of reproductive age would live within 150 miles of an abortion clinic if the law was fully implemented.
The outcome of the race for governor will determine whether Governor Perry’s efforts to implement tougher abortion restrictions will remain.