A federal district court issued a long-awaited ruling in a case over a strict Texas anti-abortion law on Tuesday, and for reproductive rights advocates, the news was not good: The largest state in the contiguous U.S. will be left with only a handful of abortion clinics when the decision goes into effect in about three weeks.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the two provisions of the Texas law, HB 2, that were at issue in the case: One requires doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital – a hurdle that has proved nearly impossible in Texas – while the other requires abortion clinics to be ambulatory surgical centers, effectively requiring every clinic in the state to transform into a multimillion-dollar mini-hospital, for no medical reason.
Lawyers for Whole Woman's Health, which operates abortion clinics in Texas and challenged the law, say they plan to go to the Supreme Court to seek a stay.
Texas, a state of nearly 27 million people, at one time had 41 abortion clinics. As of last spring, the state had 25 clinics, and that number has fallen steadily as the various provisions of HB 2 have gone into effect and the law has wended its way through the courts. (The law also bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and restricts access to medication abortion.)
HB 2 was signed into law in the summer of 2013, following then State Sen. Wendy Davis's now-famous 13-hour filibuster of a version of the legislation. The law made it through during a special session of the Texas legislature called by then Gov. Rick Perry, who announced a presidential bid last week.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, the CEO of Whole Woman's Health, said on a call with reporters Tuesday that the new Fifth Circuit ruling could result in all but seven or eight of Texas's clinics shuttering. The ruling did include exceptions related to the Whole Woman's clinic in McAllen, in Texas's Rio Grande Valley, which has especially struggled with abortion access in the wake of HB 2, but Hagstrom Miller said she and the lawyers "are still analyzing the decision to see if the relief granted to Whole Woman's Health of McAllen will allow us to keep our doors open."
"After taking nearly six months to rule, the Fifth Circuit has issued its opinion and, as expected, it is a near total loss," Hagstrom Miller said. "The justice system and our elected politicians have put a road full of unnecessary hurdles in front of every woman in Texas who has decided to end her pregnancy. For scores of Texas women, the repercussions of this ruling will be devastating. Ending a pregnancy could mean traveling hundreds of miles and overcoming needless obstacles, such as additional costs, childcare, time off and immigration checkpoints. This is simply unacceptable."