NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Abortion clinics not in compliance with Texas' new stringent rules on abortion must close their doors, the 5th Circuit ruled Thursday.
The decision significantly affects the number of clinics in Texas, reducing their number from about 20 to seven or eight.
A three-judge panel with the 5th Circuit found that the ambulatory-surgical provision does not create an undue burden on Texas women seeking abortions.
They said U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel did not have facts to support his Aug. 29 ruling that two regulations in Texas House Bill 2 created "an undue burden" on women seeking an abortion.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott asked for an emergency hearing immediately after Yeakel's decision, which blocked two parts of the law, including the provision requiring a physician to have admitting privileges at a hospital no farther than 30 miles from the place where the abortion is performed.
"Without any evidence on these points, plaintiffs do not appear to have met their burden to show that the ambulatory surgical center provision will result in insufficient clinic capacity that will impose an undue burden on a large fraction of women," the 5th Circuit ruled.
In oral arguments on Sept. 12, Stephanie Toti, attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, representing Texas clinics, said that in placing the stay, the Austin judge said the proposed abortion regulations would impede rather than advance health.
Toti said the state has presented no evidence that any harm will come to it if abortion clinics do not upgrade to surgical standards; that the state did not claim any harm to public welfare or health if the law is passed; it simply argued that the regulations are the law.
The panel featured Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, a George W. Bush appointee, Judge Jerry E. Smith, appointed by Ronald Reagan, and Stephen A. Higginson, an appointee of Barack Obama.
Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General's Office, said the law will take effect immediately.
"This decision is a vindication of the careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women," Bean said.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the center and women's health care providers are considering their options.
"Today's ruling has gutted Texas women's constitutional rights and access to critical reproductive health care and stands to make safe, legal abortion essentially disappear overnight," Northup said.
"All Texas women have been relegated today to a second class of citizens whose constitutional rights are lesser than those in states less hostile to reproductive autonomy, and women facing difficult economic circumstances will be particularly hard hit by this devastating blow."
But Joe Pojman, executive director of the Alliance for Life, said: "We consider it a complete victory for the state of Texas.
"The reality is that elective abortions will continue to remain readily available in Texas; that's not our preference, but that's the reality. Because there are seven very large ambulatory surgical centers that provide abortion in the major metropolitan cities women will still have ready access to elective abortions."
Pojman said that Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston will all be able to provide woman with safe abortion facilities. A San Antonio facility is nearing completion, which will make the state's eighth facility.
But Northup said that no woman's rights or access to essential reproductive health care should be determined by her ZIP code.
"We will continue fighting on every front to put a stop to these assaults and defend every woman's right to the full range of safe, legal reproductive health care," Northup said.
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