Texas Law Limiting Abortions Struck Down
(CN) - A federal judge in Texas blocked the implementation of a state rule that could have forced the closure of half the state's abortion clinics.
The rule, which was scheduled to take effect on Monday, requires all abortion clinics in the Texas to meet the same building code, equipment and standards of staff training as hospital-style surgery centers.
But U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, of the Federal Court in Austin, held the requirements placed unjustified obstacles on women's access to abortion without providing any additional medical benefits.
The rule, Yeakel wrote, is "unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on women seeking a pre-viability abortion."
Judge Yeakel previously stayed enforcement of another prevision of the law, a requirement that doctors performing abortions obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. The Fifth Circuit, however, reversed that decision, holding that the requirement did not impose an undue burden seeking an abortion.
Prior to Friday's ruling, Texas argued the Fifth Circuit has established a de facto "safe harbor" of 150 miles and that no abortion regulation that increases travel distance alone could act as an undue burden on the right to previabilty abortion.
"But here," Yeakel wrote, "the record conclusively establishes that increased travel distances combine with practical concerns unique to every woman. These practical concerns include lack of availability of child care, unreliability of transportation, unavailability of appointments at abortion facilities, unavailability of time off from work, immigration status and inability to pass border checkpoints, poverty level, the time and expense involved in traveling long distances, and other, inarticulable psychological obstacles. These factors combine with increased travel distances to establish a defacto barrier to obtaining an abortion for a large number of Texas women of reproductive age who might chose to seek a legal abortion."
The judge continued, "The court concludes that the act's ambulatory-surgical-center requirement, combined with the already in-effect admitting-privileges requirement, creates a brutally effective system of abortion regulation that reduces aces to abortion clinics thereby creating a statewide burden for substantial numbers of Texas women. The obstacles erected for these women are more significant than the 'incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion.'" (Quoting from Casey, 505 U.S. at 874.)
"The court concludes that the overall lack of practical aces to abortion services resulting from clinic closures throughout Texas as a result of House Bill 2 is compelling evidence of a substantial obstacle erected by the act," Yeakel wrote.
"The court also concludes that the severity of the burden imposed by both requirements is not balanced by the weight of the interest underlying them. The primary interest proffered for the act's requirements relate to concerns over the health and safety of women seeking abortions in Texas. To the extent that the State argues that the act's requirements are motivated by a legitimate interest in fetal life, the court finds those arguments misplaced."
After Judge Yeakel's decision was announced, Amy Hagstrom Miller, of Whole Woman's Health, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said she was pleased by the ruling.
"As he clearly states in his decision, requiring every abortion clinic to turn into a surgical center is excessive and not based on good medicine," Miller said.
In a statement, Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, said, "The state disagrees with the court's ruling and will seek immediate relief from the Fifth Circuit.
Within hours, David Lakey, Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, and Mari Robinson, Executive director of the Texas Medical Board, filed a notice of appeal.