Texas Family Planning Clinics Forced to Close Appeal to SCOTUS for Decision

On Monday, the Center for Reproductive Rights, representing Texas reproductive health clinics that offer abortion services, filed an emergency appeal, asking the Supreme Court to reinstate an injunction against a provision of Texas’ controversial anti-abortion HB 2. The injunction in question was overturned last week by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, immediately closing the majority of family planning facilities licensed to perform abortions in the state. If the request is approved, Texas facilities will be allowed to remain open while the court case against the legislation proceeds. This is the second time the Texas law has come to the high court. In November 2013, justices split 5-4 and refused to block the provision that required clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, clearing the way for the law to take effect while legal challenges were pressed.

This extreme anti-choice legislation requires clinics that offer these services meet standards generally in place only for large scale hospitals, as well as requiring physicians to hold  admitting privileges at hospitals within 50 miles. (We’ve written extensively about why these TRAP laws are not in the interest of women’s safety and in fact target clinics that provide abortions – read more here and here). This leaves Texas with just seven family planning clinics able to offer this legal procedure. In the largest of America’s contiguous 48 states, this is particularly damaging since over 900,000 women now live over 150 miles from the nearest facility. All of the clinics are clustered in large, metropolitan areas, and the large part of the state west and south of San Antonio no longer has a single licensed facility. That area alone is larger than most other states.

The Supreme Court gave states the right to regulate abortion 20 years ago in the groundbreaking Roe v. Wade decision, as long as regulations did not put an undue burden on the women seeking the procedure. However, justices did not determine a concrete definition of an undue burden, which is the key to the decision over HB 2. Saying that this law puts an undue burden on women seeking an abortion is an understatement. Women, particularly low-income women and those in rural areas, have had their reproductive health options slashed to the bare minimum. When women’s access to all reproductive health services is so severely limited, the numbers of unintended pregnancies increase and women seeking abortions find themselves facing only dangerous back-ally options. In Texas, many reports have already shown an increasing number of women going over the border to purchase untested abortion drugs in Mexico markets. Women need access to safe, legal reproductive healthcare that will allow them to make the best choice for themselves and their families.  The emergency appeal went to Justice Antonin Scalia on Tuesday. He oversees claims from the 5th Circuit, but he is expected to refer it to the full court. It is not clear whether the Supreme Court will grant the request, or whether it would hear the full case.

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