Texas healthcare providers take abortion fight to the Supreme Court

A coalition of Texas healthcare providers filed an emergency application with the court to block part of the law

By Katie McDonough

Published November 4, 2013 3:04PM (EST)

  (AP/Eric Gay)
(AP/Eric Gay)

Texas healthcare providers are taking the fight to protect abortion access to the Supreme Court.

A coalition of reproductive healthcare providers on Monday jointly filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court to reinstate an injunction blocking a provision of the state's sweeping new abortion law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Despite a lower federal court ruling striking down the provision as unconstitutional, the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals accepted the claim -- thoroughly debunked by medical experts and other courts -- that the provision advances medical safety and allowed the provision to go into effect. The court acknowledged that the provision “may increase the cost of accessing an abortion provider and decrease the number of physicians available to perform abortions,” but said that this was an "incidental effect" of the provision.

“Right now, women in vast swaths of Texas are being turned away at clinic doors because of a bogus law that attempts to do underhandedly what states cannot do directly -- block women from accessing abortion services," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We now look to the Supreme Court to protect women's access to these essential health care services while we fight this critical court battle.”

As news of the ruling spread last week, reproductive health clinics across the state began announcing closures and the suspension of abortion services. At last count, nine clinics have been immediately impacted, though there are four other clinics where doctors lack admitting privileges at hospitals within a 30-mile radius and more closures are expected.

At one clinic, as reported by Andrea Grimes at RH Reality Check, physicians reported having to cancel the appointments of 45 women who had been scheduled to have abortions in the coming weeks. Similarly, physicians and reproductive rights advocates across the state are currently scrambling to find alternative appointments, funding, transportation and other accommodations for women who are now being forced to travel elsewhere in the state -- or out of the state entirely -- to get the procedure done.

“Patients are walking through the door, they are crying -- they are freaking out,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates six abortion facilities in Texas, told the New York Times. “We can’t stay open without any sources of income.”

"Last week’s court decision allowing this extreme measure to take effect has already begun to hit the state of Texas like a tsunami, taking away vital health services from women," said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "The women of Texas are counting on the Supreme Court to ensure they have access to the care they need."

Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

MORE FROM Katie McDonoughFOLLOW kmcdonovgh