Abortion activists ask U.S. Supreme Court to stay Texas restrictions

People protest in front of the Whole Women's Health clinic in McAllen, Texas.

People protest in front of the Whole Women’s Health clinic in McAllen, Texas.

(Joel Martinez / Monitor)

A group of abortion clinics in Texas asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to stay a lower-court decision that would close most abortion clinics in the state.

The move came after the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant a stay after a three-judge panel last week upheld the provisions of House Bill 2, a Texas abortion law, which limits access to the procedure and creates strict rules for clinics and physicians.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, a coalition of abortion clinics, filed an emergency request Friday with the Supreme Court so that clinics could continue offering services to women as the group put together an appeal to challenge the law in the nation’s highest court.

“No woman should be forced to cross state lines or travel hundreds of miles for essential healthcare,” said Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement.


Under the law, women cannot get an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for victims of rape or incest with a minor. Chemical abortions -- those that end a pregnancy with drugs -- would have to be administered in the presence of a doctor instead of at home.

The circuit court also upheld restrictions on doctors and clinics. Only physicians with admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic can do the procedure, and clinics must meet the same equipment and building requirements as ambulatory surgery centers. That rule goes for clinics that perform in-clinic abortions as well as those that only offer antiabortion pills.

All but eight abortion clinics in Texas would have to close their doors if the Supreme Court does not issue a stay.

“The Fifth Circuit today rightly rejected efforts to stop HB 2 from taking effect,” said Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton in a statement. “No woman should be subjected to substandard levels of care, and this ruling means abortion clinics and doctors must meet safe, common-sense standards if they choose to operate their businesses in Texas.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights plans to appeal its case against the restrictions to the Supreme Court. The group is urging the court to delay enforcement until the appeal is considered because it says clinics may not be able to reopen once they are forced to close their doors, even if the Supreme Court strikes down the law.

The Supreme Court had ruled that states may regulate the practice of abortion but those regulations should not put an “undue burden” on women who want to end a pregnancy. With that guideline in mind, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel struck down the provisions in the law that required admitting privileges and surgical center equipment.

It was Yeakel’s original decision that the 5th Circuit Court overruled last week, with an exception for the McAllen clinic because it is the only one in its area.

“As the 5th Circuit once again turns a blind eye to the devastating consequences of Texas’ clinic shutdown law, it is imperative that the Supreme Court step in,” Northup said in a statement.


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