A small group of abortion clinics in Texas wants the Supreme Court to overturn a pro-life law the state legislature passed to protect women’s health that has already saved over 10,000 babies from abortions.
The Supreme Court announced in November that it will hear a lawsuit bought by abortion businesses against a pro-life Texas law responsible for closing abortion clinics that could not guarantee they could protect the health of Texas women. The law has been credited with saving the lives of more than 10,000 unborn children.
The Supreme Court will review the decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to uphold specific safety standards in House Bill 2, the Pro-Life Omnibus Bill passed by the Texas Legislature in 2013.
On June 9, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, largely upheld the contested provisions. With minor exceptions, they concluded the provisions did not create an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to abortion.
Then, the Supreme Court blocked the law while the lawsuit against it continued. 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.
The coalition of abortion companies, who brought this lawsuit, argues that the effect of the law will be to close many abortion clinics, thus creating an “undue burden” on the right of women to have an abortion.
As news reports recounted today, they made their written argument Monday to the nation’s highest court:
Their brief, filed late Monday in one of the top court’s most closely watched cases this session, said the law’s requirements would force the closure of more than 75 percent of facilities that perform abortions in the state and prevent new ones from opening.
Lawyers for Whole Woman’s Health and other clinics argued that law imposes an undue burden on women seeking to end their pregnancies, in violation of Supreme Court decisions protecting abortion rights.
The healthcare providers are challenging a state law that forces Texas clinics offering abortions to have hospital-grade facilities and requires physicians to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km).
A federal trial judge declared the requirements an unconstitutional burden on women’s access to abortion, but the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed that decision.
The new appeal will be heard by the nine justices on March 2, and a ruling in the case is expected by the end of June, likely evoking social, religious and political tensions ahead of the November U.S. election.
Texas state officials defending the regulations have until the end of January to respond to the challengers. In previous filings, they have stressed that U.S. states have an interest in protecting the health of a woman seeking an abortion and urged courts to defer to legislative authority.
However, as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote in a 44-page brief to the Supreme Court:
Petitioners ignore the fact that under the Fifth Circuit’s decision, which granted as-applied relief in McAllen, every metropolitan area with an abortion facility operating today in Texas will still have an operating abortion facility if the ruling takes effect.
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.
“The abortion industry doesn’t like these laws because abortion clinics would be forced to spend money to meet basic health and safety standards” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life. “For them, this isn’t about ‘protecting’ the women they purport to help, it’s about preserving their cash flow.”
“If an abortionist closes up because he can’t meet these most basic medical standards, that’s a good thing for the mothers who would be targeted and the unborn children who would be killed,” said Tobias.
Texas Right to Life emailed LifeNews more about what the high court will do when it reviews the pro-life law.
“In considering HB 2, SCOTUS will consider the vague notion of “undue burden” as originally addressed in the Court’s 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. For over two decades, this nebulous standard has been used to dismantle Pro-Life legislation, and – although SCOTUS’ deference to the Fifth Circuit’s earlier ruling would have been a victory for HB 2 – the Pro-Life movement at large would welcome clarification of the tenuous “undue burden” standard,” it said.
“In their petition, CRR argued that HB 2 is at odds with the state’s interest to promote health since abortion mills have closed as a result of non-compliance with the increased safety standards set forth in HB 2,” Texas Right to Life added. ”
On the one hand, the abortion industry clamors for uninterrupted taxpayer funding for alleged “women’s healthcare,” denying the use fungible funds for abortion. On the other hand, the abortion industry insists on the right to operate in the absence of the basic health and safety standards to which similar medical professions are held.”
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“Until SCOTUS completes a review of the constitutionality of HB 2, the law’s safety standards are delayed from taking effect in Texas,” it noted.
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.