A United States district court judge has blocked two provisions of Texas' sweeping antiabortion law in a ruling that declared unconstitutional the requirements that clinics become ambulatory surgical centers and providers obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. According to the decision from Judge Lee Yeakel, each provision presented an unconstitutional burden to Texans' access to reproductive healthcare.
The combined provisions would have shuttered all but eight clinics in the state. There were 41 abortion providers in the state in 2013, but that number has dropped to 19 in the wake of the omnibus law. Researchers at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found that because of the new law, the number of women of reproductive age living more than 200 miles from a provider has increased by nearly 3,000 percent — from 10,000 to 290,000. The ambulatory surgical center requirement would have ballooned that number to nearly 800,000.
Last year, Yeakel found that the admitting privileges requirement was "without a rational basis," and blocked the provision. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision, and the state began enforcing the provision in November. The state intends to immediately appeal the decision and will "seek immediate relief from the 5th Circuit, which has already upheld HB 2 once,” according to Lauren Bean, a spokesperson for Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott.
"There was no justification for the medically unnecessary regulations in HB2, no demonstrated problem with safety in our state’s already well-regulated abortion clinics," NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Executive Director Heather Busby said in a statement on the decision. "In fact, state records demonstrated the opposite: that abortion is one of the safest outpatient procedures in the state. Yet despite an overwhelming outcry from the public, lawmakers forced the bill through based on lies."
Amy Hagstrom Miller, the CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, also celebrated the decision, and applauded Yeakel's recognition that the law served no medical purpose . “We are extremely pleased by Judge Yakel’s ruling today. As he clearly states in his decision, requiring every abortion clinic to turn into a surgical center is excessive and not based on good medicine," she said in a statement. "It’s an undue burden for women in Texas -- and thankfully today the court agreed. The evidence has been stacking up against the state and against the politicians who so cynically passed these laws in the name of safety.
"Everyone in Texas deserves and needs health care based on medical science and proven standards of care," she continued. "Whole Woman’s Health already follows our state’s safety requirements and there was never evidence that requirements such as widening our hallways or doorways would make any difference for women’s health."