AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge appointed to the bench by then-President George W. Bush has struck down key parts of a Texas abortion law that would have closed most of the abortion facilities in the state.
HB2, which required abortion facilities to comport with the building, equipment and staffing standards of hospital-style surgical centers, was to have gone into effect on Monday. Out of the 19 facilities in Texas, only six would have been able to comply under the new regulations.
According to reports, there were just over 40 abortion facilities in the state just two years ago, but other regulations, such as the recent hospital admitting privileges requirement, were significant factors in their closing. A number of locations were unable to comply as area hospitals refused to partner with abortionists. Those regulations were also challenged, but were upheld by the courts.
But on Friday, Judge Lee Yeakel declared the surgical center standards regulation unconstitutional, asserting that it was created by “a brutally effective system of abortion regulation that reduces access to abortion clinics, thereby creating a statewide burden for substantial numbers of Texas women.”
“The ambulatory-surgical-center requirement is unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on the right of women throughout Texas to seek a previabilty abortion,” he wrote in his 21-page decision. “The practical impact on Texas women due to the clinics’ closure statewide would operate for a significant number of women in Texas just as drastically as a complete ban on abortion.”
The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights had filed suit earlier this year to challenge the regulations. President Nancy Northrup praised the ruling issued by Yeakel, calling it a victory for women.
“Texas women still face serious threats to their rights, health, and ability to obtain safe, high-quality reproductive health care from reputable doctors in their communities,” she told reporters. “But at least for the moment, today’s victory is vital in preventing politicians’ scorched-earth assaults on women’s health care from causing even more harm than they already have.”
But Texas officials vowed to appeal.
“I am truly disappointed in today’s ruling that undermines a concerted effort to improve health care for women in Texas by raising the standard of care in abortion clinics,” stated Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
“The state disagrees with the court’s ruling and will seek immediate relief from the Fifth Circuit, which has already upheld HB2 once,” added Lauren Bean, spokesperson for Attorney General Greg Abbott.
According to the latest statistics, when there were over 40 operational abortion facilities in the state, 80,000 abortions were performed in Texas each year. Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider, reported 327,166 abortions nationwide in 2012, down from its record-setting 333,964 abortions the year prior. However, the organization’s income was the largest ever, with $540.6 million in taxpayer funding/grants, and a total of $1.3 billion in net assets.