The Supreme Court has blocked 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 high court voted 5-4, with Justice Anthony Kennedy joining with the four reliable abortion activists on the Supreme Court in blocking the law.
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 earlier this month. Abortion clinics appealed and asked the high court to block the law while the lower court considers the appeal and the high court granted that request 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.
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The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. voting to deny the stay.
The case concerns two parts of a state law that imposes strict requirements on abortion providers. One requires all abortion clinics in the state to meet the standards for “ambulatory surgical centers,” including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing. The other requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
Other parts of the law took effect in 2013, causing about half of the state’s 41 abortion clinics to close. If the contested provisions take effect, abortion rights advocates said, the number of clinics will again be halved.
“This would amount to a more than 75 percent reduction in Texas abortion facilities in just a two-year period, creating a severe shortage of safe and legal abortion services in a state that is home to more than five million reproductive–age women,” lawyers for abortion providers told the justices in an emergency application for a stay.
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, once fully decided, 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.