Update: Late Thursday, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Appeals Court released its opinion to uphold Texas' new laws that women's advocates say will limit freedom of choice. In a 20-page ruling, the court found that doctors who perform abortions should be required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic, citing improved quality in care. Choice advocates have called the requirement a ruse—any emergency room can treat a woman who has complications without the doctor's admitting privileges—to limit the number of available providers. They say it will force as many as 13 of the state's 36 clinics to stop providing abortions.
After a marathon filibuster by state Senator Wendy Davis and heated protests by thousands of abortion rights supporters across Texas, the fate of the state’s abortion law lies in the hands of an appeals court judge in New Orleans.
Earlier this week, a federal judge ruled that a provision in the law requiring an abortion provider to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital was unconstitutional, and a block to women's access to such reproductive health services.
Now, the Fifth Circuit Appeals Court is expected to rule on an appeal from the state's conservative leaders that calls for a stay so that new restrictions that would cause clinics to close can be implemented.
This week, U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel also upheld another part of the legislation that could limit a woman’s right to end an early pregnancy through medication-abortion.
Yeakel ruled “that there is no rational relationship” between an abortion provider having admitting privileges 30 miles from a facility and the “outcome” of an operation. According to Planned Parenthood, who brought the suit on behalf of 12 providers in Texas, women who live in the distant stretches of the massive state would continue to have their access to abortion protected under that ruling.
Choice advocates estimated that one-third of the state’s licensed 42 abortion providers would have had to halt providing abortions if that part of the law had been upheld.
“The court concludes that whether an abortion provider has admitting privileges does nothing to further the interest of patient care by improving communication. Nor does it impact the timeliness of care in the emergency room, where the nature of the practice is to treat patients with all possible haste,” the ruling said.
Lawyers for the state of Texas had argued that doctors with admitting privileges at hospitals could treat their patients more effectively “by providing continuity of care and decreasing medical errors” if complications arose. They also argued that if doctors had admitting privileges at an area hospital, issues such as “patient abandonment, hospital costs and accountability” would be addressed as well.
Yeakel struck down the arguments for that provision of the Texas law passed by the state legislature this past July, but upheld a part of the law that would force doctors to use a particular protocol in nonsurgical, medication-induced abortions.
In his ruling, Yeakel wrote that Texas should enforce standards put forth by the Food and Drug Administration, but said exceptions might be made to safeguard the health of the mother during the pregnancy.
Thus, the court concludes that the medication-abortion provisions do not fail constitutional review because of the lack of a specific health-of-the-mother exception. Rather, the medication-abortion provisions may not be enforced against any physician who determines in appropriate medical judgment, to perform a medication-abortion using the off-label protocol for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.
Although the medication-abortion provisions do not generally place an undue burden on women seeking an abortion, they do if they ban a medical abortion where a physician determines, in appropriate medical judgment, such a procedure necessary for the preservation of life or health of the mother.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed Yeakel’s decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which is expected to rule any day. Both sides of the conflict expect it could go to the Supreme Court.
“(The federal) ruling marks an important victory for Texas women and sends a clear message to lawmakers: it is unconstitutional for politicians to pass laws that take personal, private decisions away from women and their doctors,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.