Judge rules part of Texas abortion law unconstitutional
Some controversial new Texas abortion restrictions are unconstitutional and will not take effect as scheduled Tuesday, a federal judge ruled Monday.
“Today’s ruling marks an important victory for Texas women and sends a clear message to lawmakers: It is unconstitutional for politicians to pass laws that take personal, private decisions away from women and their doctors,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
After Texas lawmakers approved the new restrictions last summer, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers challenged them in court, arguing that they unfairly limited medication-induced abortions and forced doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals near the abortion clinics where they worked, effectively closing a third of clinics statewide.
Opponents did not challenge one of the most controversial provisions of the law, which bans abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy and is still scheduled to take effect Tuesday.
The Texas attorney general’s office argued that the new provisions protected women and fetuses.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin ruled that the admitting privileges requirement violated the rights of doctors to do what they thought was best for patients. The judge said that restrictions on medication-induced abortions should stand “except when a physician finds such an abortion necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”
Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott, a Republican campaigning for governor, said in a statement that the state had appealed Yeakel’s order.
“As everyone — including the trial court judge — has acknowledged, this is a matter that will ultimately be resolved by the appellate courts or the U.S. Supreme Court,” Abbott said.
Opponents of the restrictions said they had no immediate plans to appeal.
Heather Busby, executive director of Austin-based NARAL Pro Choice Texas, said opponents of the law were “very pleased” that the judge ruled against the provision that required admitting privileges.
“This is one of the most dangerous provisions of the law because it would have closed clinics, leaving 22,000 women without access to care,” Busby said, adding that she was “disappointed it wasn’t a more broad ruling.”
Busby said she hoped the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans would uphold the Texas judge’s decision.
“Our hope is that the 5th Circuit will look at how other jurisdictions have ruled on this and how damaging it can be for women and not put politics or personal beliefs before the law,” she said.
Similar requirements for admitting privileges were challenged and blocked before taking effect in Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wisconsin. State courts in North Dakota and Oklahoma have struck down restrictions on medication abortion.
Mississippi passed a law similar to the Texas restrictions last year. It faced a similar legal challenge before a federal judge blocked the law pending a trial in March. Mississippi’s attorney general asked the 5th Circuit to lift a temporary stay and allow the law to be enforced in the interim, but the court refused.
In Texas, unlike Mississippi, the judge’s order is a final decision, meaning an appeal to the 5th Circuit requires a review on the legality of the law itself, not just an injunction to block it.
“We’re optimistic that they will share our opinion on this issue,” said Emily Horne, a legislative associate at Houston-based Texas Right to Life.
The proposed restrictions drew national attention in June when state Sen. Wendy Davis staged a daylong filibuster to block them during a special session of the Legislature. Davis, a Democrat, subsequently decided to run for governor.
Her filibuster forced Republican Gov. Rick Perry to call a second special session, where the Republican-controlled Legislature eventually passed the measure.
“Today’s decision will not stop our ongoing efforts to protect life and ensure the women of our state aren’t exposed to any more of the abortion-mill horror stories that have made headlines recently,” Perry said in a statement Monday. “We will continue fighting to implement the laws passed by the duly elected officials of our state, laws that reflect the will and values of Texans.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also issued a statement calling the new restrictions “common sense” and urging the 5th Circuit to uphold them as “constitutional and consistent with U.S. Supreme Court precedent protecting the life and health of the mother and child.”
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