The US Supreme Court issued an order last night blocking enforcement of two provisions of a restrictive Texas anti-abortion law that had forced all but eight of the state’s abortion clinics to close. The decision immediately allows 13 clinics that had been shuttered earlier this month by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to reopen.
The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had previously ruled that Texas could begin enforcing the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements of its new TRAP law, passed last year as HB2, against clinics in West Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. The decision caused 13 clinics to close overnight and would have forced nearly 1 million women of reproductive age in Texas to travel more than 300 miles round-trip to the nearest clinic, preventing access to abortion for many.
Discussing the impact of the Fifth Circuit decision with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, one of the plaintiffs challenging the Texas law, said that she was forced to close her clinic in McAllen, Texas. When staff explained to patients that they could no longer access abortion care at the clinic, but would have to travel north to obtain abortion services, Hagstrom Miller explained, “There were quite a few women who said I can’t travel north and will take matters into my own hands.”
Hagstrom Miller told Maddow that she was “very delighted” by the Supreme Court’s order. She added, “It’s delightful to be able to say yes to women in the Rio Grande Valley who have been calling us.”
Reproductive health care providers in Texas had filed an emergency application with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on October 6, asking the Court to block enforcement of the Fifth Circuit’s decision allowing the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements – both medically unnecessary, harmful restrictions on access to abortion – to go forward. Justice Scalia, who oversees the Fifth Circuit, referred the case to the entire Supreme Court, which issued its 6-3 decision last night. Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito dissented, without explanation. The Supreme Court’s order allows the Texas clinics closed by the Fifth Circuit decision to reopen while the challenge to the law continues to make its way through the federal courts.
“This fight against Texas’ sham abortion law is not over,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the plaintiffs in the case. “HB2 was designed to gut the constitutional protections of Roe v. Wade and half of the state’s clinics remained closed. We will continue this legal battle until the rights of Texas women are restored.”
Texas had 44 clinics before the enactment of HB2 last year. That number dropped to 21 after parts of HB2 went into effect, and before the Supreme Court stepped in, Texas was down to only eight. In addition to this legal challenge affecting West Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, the Center for Reproductive Rights is also waging a separate challenge to the admitting privileges requirement and medication abortion restrictions contained in HB2.
Media Resources: US Supreme Court 10/14/14; Center for Reproductive Rights, 10/14/14; The Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC 10/14/14; Feminist Newswire 10/13/14, 10/7/14, 10/3/14