NEW ORLEANS - A law that shut down more than a dozen Texas abortion facilities last weekend will not face review by the full 5th Circuit.
Just three of 15 judges voted for rehearing, according to the Thursday order, which presents the latest upset for women's health groups in Texas.
Passed in a special session of the Texas 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. Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis became the focus of national attention when she gave an 11-hour filibuster at the end of the Legislature's regular session in an effort to block an earlier Senate version of the bill.
Planned Parenthood and affiliated health clinics sued Texas in Sep. 2013, seeking to block two provision of the law. Opponents of the law, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say the requirement is impossible for many physicians to meet in the sprawling state.
Though U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel struck down the admitting-privileges provision a year ago, 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," a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit unanimously reinstated the law in March.
Thursday's decision against rehearing keeps that ruling intact.
Justice James Dennis wrote alone in dissent that the panel's March decision relied on as a "perversion of the undue burden standard."
Dennis found such scrutiny inappropriate for laws that "substantially chop away at woman's right to previability abortion ... essentially giving states carte blanche with respect to the regulation of the right to an abortion."
"If not overruled, the panel's sham undue burden test will continue to exert its precedential force in courts' review of challenges to similar types of recently minted abortion restriction in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi," Dennis wrote.
A week earlier, the 5th Circuit had ordered abortion clinics not in compliance with Texas' new stringent rules to close their doors.
Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, blasted the court "once again" refusing to "place any limits whatsoever on politicians who are intent on shutting down clinics and preventing women from getting abortions."
"Women's safety is, of course, our top priority. But as the major medical groups have explained, these laws don't make women safer; they put them at risk by shutting down quality health care providers," Dalven said in a statement.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Texas is at the epicenter of a national health care crisis brought on by elected officials.
"This is a threat to the well-being of millions of women, and an affront to the promise of equal rights and legal protection for all Americans," Northup said. "It is increasingly clear that either the Supreme Court or Congress needs to step in to protect the rights of women across the nation from this relentless assault on their dignity, health and rights."
With just eight abortion facilities left in Texas, women's health groups asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to block enforcement of the state's tough abortion laws.
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