The state of Texas lost all but eight of its abortion clinics overnight after the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the state could begin enforcing unnecessary and harmful abortion restrictions passed as part of Texas’s omnibus anti-abortion bill, HB 2, last year. Now, close to 1 million women of reproductive age will now have to travel more than 150 miles to the nearest clinic, preventing access to abortion for many.
More than half of Texas’s abortion clinics had already been forced to close before the Fifth Circuit’s ruling, and reports showed that this lack of access was already forcing some women to resort to illegal and unsafe methods to end their pregnancies. In addition, clinic closures compromise access to a wide range of comprehensive reproductive health care services, including birth control and life-saving cancer screenings.
“It’s shocking and a disgrace. Women will suffer, some will die because of this reactionary policy,” said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. “Feminist must organize to stop these attacks.”
In its decision issued yesterday, a divided 2-1 panel of the Fifth Circuit allowed a provision of HB 2 requiring abortion clinics in Texas to meet the stringent building code requirements of ambulatory surgical centers to go into effect. That decision shuttered 13 clinics immediately. The appeals court also ruled that the law’s admitting privileges requirement – a provision that has already closed around half of the state’s abortion clinics, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights – could be applied to clinics in the Rio Grande Valley and West Texas.
“Today our hearts are broken on behalf of the women and families in Texas that have been left behind by this 5th circuit ruling,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, in a statement released after the decision. “What we have been fearing now if official: Texas faces a health care crisis, brought on by its own legislators.”
The Texas state legislature passed HB 2 last year amid strong protest from women’s rights and reproductive health activists. Wendy Davis successfully filibustered the bill in June 2013, but Governor Rick Perry (R) called a special session to pass it. In addition to the ambulatory surgical center and admitting privileges requirements, the law also bans abortion after 20 weeks and restricts medication abortion. Texas had 44 abortion clinics prior to HB 2. That number was cut to 21 after parts of HB 2 went into effect, and yesterday’s decision eviscerated 13 more clinics.
George W. Bush appointee, Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, wrote the majority opinion in the 2-1 panel decision, overturning the decision of District Judge Lee Yeakel finding the ambulatory surgical center and admitting privileges requirements unconstitutional. A separate challenge to the Texas admitting privileges requirement is also making its way through the federal courts.
Activists will be protesting today at noon on the south steps of the the Texas State Capitol.
Media Resources: US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit; Whole Woman’s Health 10/2/14; Center for Reproductive Rights 10/2/14; Feminist Newswire 9/2/14, 4/14/14, 3/6/14, 6/27/14, 6/26/13; Facebook