WASHINGTON — The Obama administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to strike down new abortion regulations in Texas that some say would close most of the abortion facilities in the state. The brief was one of 45 filed by entities from across the country, including members of Congress and various state attorney generals.
As previously reported, in 2013, following the passage of several safety regulations for abortion facilities, Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against Texas officials, asserting that the new requirements would have an adverse affect on most facilities.
A federal judge appointed by then-President George H.W. Bush soon placed an injunction on portions of the new law, including the requirement that abortionists have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility, and that facilities be held to the same standards as surgical facilities. District Judge Lee Yeakel declared the regulations an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to have an abortion.
But as then-Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed the injunction to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the three-judge panel disagreed with Yeakel that the admitting privileges requirement served no purpose. It stated that although the law would make it more difficult for women to obtain an abortion, the consequence was merely an “incidental effect,” and was “not designed to strike at the right [to abortion] itself.”
The matter was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which placed a stay on the regulations, holding them until the Fifth Circuit was able to rule on the merits of the law in light of the U.S. Constitution.
The circuit’s three-judge panel issued its final ruling on June 9, declaring that the regulations withstand constitutional scrutiny because they serve a valid purpose in protecting women’s health and do not burden a “large fraction” of Texas residents.
Abortion advocates then appealed the ruling back to the Supreme Court, which announced in November that it would hear the case.
On Monday, the Obama administration filed an amicus brief over the matter, asking the court to strike down the regulations.
“Those requirements are unnecessary to protect—indeed, would harm—women’s health, and they would result in closure of three quarters of the abortion clinics in the state,” wrote U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli.
“The closure of abortion facilities that occurred in light of the admitting privileges requirement had, the court found, already increased the number of Texas women of reproductive age living more than 200 miles away from a Texas clinic from 10,000 to 290,000 — and the additional closures that would be caused by the ambulatory surgical centers requirement would increase that number to 750,000,” he said.
There were 42 abortion facilities in Texas prior to the passage of the law, and 19 currently remain open. Opponents of the regulations state that the number would shrink to 10 should all the facets of the law be upheld.
A brief signed by 163 members of Congress also calls upon the Supreme Court to reject the safety regulations, as well separate briefs filed by state attorney generals from New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
Women who have obtained abortions also submitted briefs, including Anne Fowler, a female Episcopal priest who contended that if she “had not had access to an abortion when she accidentally became pregnant after enrolling in Divinity School, she would never have been able to graduate, to serve as a parish rector, or to help the enormous number of people whose lives she has touched.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says that he welcomes the battle to defend the regulations, which he asserts are necessary in order to protect women’s health.
“The common-sense measures Texas has put in place elevate the standard of care and protect the health of Texas women. The state has wide discretion to pass laws ensuring Texas women are not subject to substandard conditions at abortion facilities,” he said.
“The advancement of the abortion industry’s bottom line shouldn’t take precedence over women’s health, and we look forward to demonstrating the validity of these important health and safety requirements in court,” Paxton added.
However, some believe that the abortion industry should be outlawed altogether instead of being regulated.
“[L]ike pruning your favorite bush to make it grow strong, if you want to make abortion a permanent part of society, then regulate the procedure and it will look more reasonable and humane,” writes American Right to Life’s Frances Kissling.
“Regulations merely prune the abortion weed and strengthen its root, for they make abortion seem more acceptable to the public and politicians, for on the surface such regulations undermine the very concept of the right to life, as they call upon judges we put on the bench to uphold laws that regulate killing kids, and so they turn conservative judges increasingly against the right to life of the unborn,” she says.
Oral argument is set for March 2.