NEW ORLEANS — An appeals court has upheld a Texas law that is expected to result in the closure of most of the state’s abortion facilities, overturning a lower court ruling that found the statute to be unconstitutional.
As previously reported, the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights had filed suit earlier this year to challenge two regulations imposed by H.B. 2, including the requirement that abortion facilities comport with the standards of surgical centers. Those who opposed the law stated that the requirement would be too costly for the majority of abortionists, in some cases meaning upwards of $1 million dollars in upgrades.
In August, U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel, appointed to the bench by then-President George W. Bush, 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.”
But Texas officials appealed the ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Louisiana, which overturned Yeakel’s decision on Thursday. The three-judge panel consisted of Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, appointed by then-President George W. Bush, Judge Jerry E. Smith, appointed by then-President Ronald Reagan, and Stephen A. Higginson, appointed by Barack Obama.
“Without any evidence on these points, plaintiffs do not appear to have met their burden to show that the ambulatory surgical center provision will result in insufficient clinic capacity that will impose an undue burden on a large fraction of women,” the decision, written by Judge Elrod outlined.
The court did not necessarily sanction the closure of abortion facilities, as it concluded that mothers in the state will still be able to obtain an abortion, although they will need to travel farther for the procedure. Reports state that seven to eight abortion facilities will be able to remain due to the ruling, down from the current 19 that are open.
“The reality is that elective abortions will continue to remain readily available in Texas; that’s not our preference, but that’s the reality,” Joe Pojman, executive director of the Alliance for Life, told reporters. “Because there are seven very large ambulatory surgical centers that provide abortion in the major metropolitan cities women will still have ready access to elective abortions.”
Facilities are expected to remain in the major cities—Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin.
Lauren Bean, spokesperson for Attorney General Greg Abbott, praised the Fifth Circuit’s decision following its release.
“This decision is a vindication of the careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women,” she said.
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.