A federal appeals court issued a ruling today upholding a Texas pro-life law credited with closing multiple abortion clinics and cutting abortions 13 percent, saving an estimated 9,900 babies from abortion.
The legislation, House Bill 2 (HB2), requires abortion facilities to meet the same safety standards of other Ambulatory Surgical Centers in the state, ensures that abortionists have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and bans painful late abortions on fully formed babies. The admitting privileges portion of the law was the portion responsible for closing abortion clinics and, because so many shut down or stopped doing abortions, Judge Lee Yeakel claimed that constituted an undue burden on women.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed an appeal of Judge Yeakel’s ruling and the appellate court issued its decision on that today.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court “erred by substituting its own judgment for that of the legislature” when ruling against the pro-life bill. It ruled that all abortion clinics have to follow the admitting privileges law except one.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state can require abortion clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center standards, which include minimum sizes for rooms and doorways, pipelines for anesthesia and other infrastructure. Only a handful of Texas abortion clinics in the state — all in major metropolitan areas — meet those standards.
In the lawsuit brought against the state, the Center for Reproductive Rights, on behalf of several Texas abortion providers, also asked the court for a reprieve for two clinics from a separate provision of the law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic.
The three-judge panel ruled in the providers’ favor on part of that request, granting exemptions to the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements for one clinic in question, Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen. It did not grant the same request for another provider, Reproductive Services in El Paso.
The legal fight is likely to continue. Abortion providers could request that the full 15-member court hear the case or they could attempt to take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court. The 5th Circuit is considered one of the nation’s most conservative federal appellate courts.
Planned Parenthood did not challenge the law’s prohibition on abortions that take place at 20 weeks or later, a provision based on evidence that demonstrates the baby can feel pain at that stage. Pro-life Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed the omnibus HB 2 bill into law in July 2013.
Abbott criticized Yeakel in his motion to the appellate court, saying the district judge “failed even to mention (much less follow) precedent” from the appellate court and U.S. Supreme Court. Abbott asked for a response from the appeals court by Friday and he said he thinks it will overturn the judge’s decision.
A leading pro-life group hailed today’s decision.
“Texas has struck a decisive blow for women’s health and safety against a predatory abortion industry,” said Americans United for Life President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest. “A largely under-monitored, under-supervised, and secretive abortion industry tells women ‘trust but don’t verify that our clinics are clean and safe.’ No longer should women be abandoned to self-serving and false assurances from an industry that puts profits over people.”
AUL filed an amicus curiae brief (friend-of-the-court) brief in the Fifth Circuit in support of the mandate that abortion clinics meet the same health and safety standards as other facilities performing outpatient surgeries.
This case is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. AUL Vice President of Legal Affairs Denise Burke, writing in The Federalist, predicted in January 2015 that the high court would eventually review the life-affirming provisions of Texas House Bill 2 and, in doing so, could dramatically change America’s abortion landscape. Notably, the Supreme Court has never ruled on the constitutionality of comprehensive health and safety standards for abortion facilities.