NEW ORLEANS (CN) - A provision in Texas' tough abortion restrictions requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital is not unconstitutional, the 5th Circuit ruled.
Passed in a special session of the Legislature in 2013, House Bill 2 requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the medical facility where they work.
Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis made national headlines when she gave an 11-hour filibuster at the end of the Legislature's regular session to block an earlier Senate version of the bill.
Opponents of the law, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say the new requirement is impossible for many physicians to meet in the sprawling states.
"Major medical organizations like the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have said that the law does not improve patient safety but instead harms women by shutting down abortion providers throughout the state," the ACLU said in a statement Thursday. "No other medical professionals are required to have admitting privileges."
The law also bans abortions after 20 weeks, requires providers of medication-induced abortions to follow a drug regimen approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000, and stipulates that abortion clinics meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.
Planned Parenthood and affiliated health clinics sued Texas in September 2013, seeking to block two provisions of the law. In October, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin struck down the admitting privilege provision, concluding it has "no rational relationship to improved patient care" and does "not rationally relate to the state's legitimate interest in protecting the unborn."
Yeakel upheld the provision requiring following of the FDA drug regimen.
The state appealed.
A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit unanimously reinstated the admitting privilege provision on Thursday.
Writing for the panel, Judge Edith H. Jones agreed with the state that the admitting privileges requirement would reduce the delay in treating abortion patients with critical complications.
"Requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges would also promote the continuity of care in all cases, reducing the risk of injury caused by miscommunication and misdiagnosis when a patient is transferred from one health care provider to another," the 34-page opinion states.
"Applying the rational basis test correctly, we have to conclude that the state acted within its prerogative to regulate the medical profession by heeding these patient-centered concerns and requiring abortion practitioners to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital."
Jones noted that testimony at trial by several physicians indicated the credentialing process "reduces the risk that abortion patients will be subjected to woefully inadequate treatment."
She wrote that Planned Parenthood admitted at trial that at least 210 women in the state are hospitalized after an abortion each year.
"Witnesses on both sides further testified that some of the women who are hospitalized after an abortion have complications that require an OB/GYN specialist's treatment," Jones wrote. "Against Planned Parenthood's claims that these women can be adequately treated without the admitting-privileges requirement, the state showed that many hospitals lack an Ob/Gyn on call for emergencies."
Attorney General Greg Abbott applauded the ruling.
"This unanimous 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," he said in a statement Thursday.
Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, criticized "extremist politicians" endangering the health of women in the state.
"The law is having a devastating impact on women in Texas, and the court should have struck it down," she said in a statement.
Hours before the ruling, Planned Parenthood announced the opening of a new $5 million clinic in San Antonio to comply with the law.
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