AUSTIN — A federal appeals court has upheld several abortion restrictions encapsulated in a Texas law known as H.B. 2 that may close most of the abortion facilities in the state.
“[T]he State truly intends that women only receive an abortion in facilities that can provide the highest quality of care and safety—the stated legitimate purpose of H.B. 2,” the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans wrote. “Plaintiffs bore the burden of proving that H.B. 2 was enacted with an improper purpose. … They failed to proffer competent evidence contradicting the legislature’s statement of a legitimate purpose for H.B. 2.”
As previously reported, a federal judge appointed by then-President George H.W. Bush had placed an injunction on portions of the new law in October 2013, declaring the regulations an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to have an abortion.
District Judge Lee Yeakel agreed with Planned Parenthood and others who had challenged 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.
But as Texas 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 regulation, holding it until the Fifth Circuit was able to rule on the merits of the law in light of the U.S. Constitution.
The three-judge panel issued its final ruling on Tuesday, 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. It allowed the law to stand across the state, but made an exception for an abortion facility in McAllen, stating that it would place too much of a burden on abortion-minded women if the location closed.
Pro-abortion groups expressed disapproval, vowing to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Once again, women across the state of Texas face elimination of safe and legal options for ending a pregnancy, and the denial of their constitutional rights,” said Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “The Supreme Court’s prior rulings do not allow for this kind of broadside legislative assault on women’s rights and healthcare. We now look to the justices to stop the sham laws that are shutting clinics down and placing countless women at risk of serious harm.”
But state officials, such as Attorney General Ken Paxton, praised the ruling.
“HB 2 both protects the unborn and ensures Texas women are not subjected to unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Today’s decision by the Fifth Circuit validates that the people of Texas have authority to establish safe, common-sense standards of care necessary to ensure the health of women,” he said.
“Abortion practitioners should have no right to operate their businesses from sub-standard facilities and with doctors who lack admitting privileges at a hospital,” Paxton continued. “This ruling will help protect the health and well-being of Texas women. I am proud to have both supported this law in the legislature and defended it in the courts.”