Appeals court upholds Texas abortion restrictions behind a devastating health crisis in the state

The panel of judges ruled that the law "does not impose an undue burden on the life and health of a woman."

By Katie McDonough
March 28, 2014 2:20AM (UTC)
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A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld the abortion law that stands to shutter all but six of the abortion clinics in the second most populous state in the nation.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans reversed a federal district court ruling holding that key provisions of the sweeping new law -- including the admitting privileges requirement -- were unconstitutional and served no "valid purpose." In the Thursday opinion, the panel of judges stated that the law "on its face does not impose an undue burden on the life and health of a woman."


As the Texas Tribune reports, Chief Justice Edith Jones' opinion stated that Texas' "articulation of rational legislative objectives, which was backed by evidence placed before the state legislature, easily supplied a connection between the admitting-privileges rule and the desirable protection of abortion patients’ health."

The decision also allows the restrictions on medication abortion to remain in place, also reversing a ruling from U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel. In his October ruling, Yeakel wrote, "The medication abortion provision may not be enforced against any physician who determines, in appropriate medical judgment, to perform the medication-abortion using off-label protocol for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”

The law requires physicians to abide by outdated protocol for medication abortion rather than use their own expertise and medical judgment to determine the best care for their patients.


“The Fifth Circuit has turned a blind eye to the very real and devastating consequences that this law has had on thousands of Texas women, erecting barriers to abortion so high that women are simply left with no legal or safe options," Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “Right now, the state of Texas is gutting the constitutional protections afforded by Roe v. Wade more than 40 years ago, leaving large swaths of Texas left without a provider."

Northup says her organization and its partners "remain committed" to "considering every necessary step to end this health crisis and restore the essential health care that has been unconstitutionally stripped away.”

The sweeping restrictions have compounded a reproductive health crisis in the state -- the product of years of Republican-led assaults on clinics and reproductive health programs and increasingly draconian policies regulating the procedure. In the last year, 34 clinics have been forced to scale back services or cease providing abortions altogether, and a dozen clinics have closed outright.


It is estimated that when the final provisions of HB2 go into effect in September, only six clinics will remain open.


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

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Abortion Abortion Care Reproductive Health Reproductive Rights Texas