by Mary Tuma
“The court upheld part of the law and enjoined part of the law," said AG spokesperson Lauren Bean in a statement. "The State has already appealed the court’s ruling. We appreciate the trial court’s attention in this matter. As everyone – including the trial court judge – has acknowledged, this is a matter that will ultimately be resolved by the appellate courts or the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Read Abbott's appeal here via Scribd: State's Notice of Appeal -M.T.
For now, one section of Texas' new anti-abortion law will not go into effect, a federal judge ruled in Austin today.
Photo by Mary Tuma
Granting a partial victory to a group of reproductive health organizations who filed suit against the state, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel concluded a requirement forcing abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of where the procedure is preformed is, "without a rational basis and places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus."
Filed in late September by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a Texas-based law firm, the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood v Abbott, represents more than a dozen health care providers who consider the law harmful to their patients and unconstitutional, as the Current previously reported. The groups sought to challenge two parts of the omnibus bill, forgoing a fight against provisions that would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and require clinics to undergo costly changes to their facilities. After three days of arguments, Yeakel delivered his order hours shy of Oct. 29– the day key sections of the bill are set to be enforced.
While the state tried to justify the admitting privileges requirement as necessary to ensure women get the proper care in the event of an abortion complication, the judge echoed what health leaders were saying all along during testimony over the HB2 legislative debate that took place this summer: "By law, no hospital can refuse to provide emergency care." Admitting privileges "make no difference in the quality of care received by an abortion patient in an emergency room" wrote Yeakel. And the state cannot provide evidence of any correlation between admitting privileges and improved communication with the patient or even that a communication problem actually exists between abortion providers and emergency-room physicians. Ruling the measure unconstitutional, Yeakel agreed with Planned Parenthood's assessment that the requirement would pose an undue burden on women, especially in light of the difficultly for abortion providers to secure privileges.
"We are very relieved that Judge Yeakel blocked implementation of the admitting privileges requirement and that we do not need to close our facilities in McAllen, Fort Worth and San Antonio," said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and president of Whole Woman's Health in a statement following the ruling. Miller's network of abortion clinics are represented in the suit.
The groups filing suit estimate that HB2 would prevent access to abortion for one in three women. The hospital admitting section would completely eliminate access to abortion in Fort Worth, Harlingen, Lubbock, Waco, McAllen, and Killeen, they estimate.
"This decision will keep thousands of women safe and allows our Whole Woman's Health clinics to continue to provide compassionate, professional care to women in our communities. The staff and physicians working with Whole Woman's Health have been on edge for weeks, and most especially today; our patients have been calling and asking over and over if they will be able to be seen tomorrow. We are thankful for the Judge's ruling and relieved to be able to continue care for the women who need us most."
However, Yeakel failed to halt the stipulation that forces women to follow outdated FDA protocol when taking abortion-inducing drugs, writing that it does not similarly pose an obstacle to women, "except when a physician finds such an abortion necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother." The judge recognized the efficacy of its off-label use (which, major health organizations contend is the safest method) and found the FDA protocol is "clearly more burdensome," and "assuredly more imposing and unpleasant for the woman."
Despite this, Yeakel stopped short of deeming it an undue burden for women who are not facing an immediate health risk. Referencing Casey v Planned Parenthood, Yeakel writes that just because the measure makes it more difficult and/or more expensive to access abortion, it's not illegal. Further, "[i]ndividuals do not have a constitutional right to a preferred medical option, so long as a safe, medically accepted, and actual alternative exists," he wrote, pointing to surgical abortion procedures. The ruling is a letdown to the reproductive rights community, as health experts have argued the FDA rules increase medical risk.
"We are disappointed that Judge Yeakel did not also block the severe restrictions on medication abortion," Miller said. "Nearly 40 percent of the women we serve at Whole Woman's Health choose medication abortion and now Texas is preventing these women from the advances in medical practice that other women across the United States will be able to access. These restrictions are not based on sound medical practice."
It's largely expected the state will appeal the ruling and it will eventually makes its way to the conservative-leaning Firth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Read the order here on Scribd: