Nearly half of Texas’ remaining 18 abortion clinics may soon be shut down following a federal appellate court’s decision to uphold contested provisions of the state’s House Bill 2 abortion law on Tuesday. That could leave the state with just 10 clinics to serve a population of 5.7 million women of childbearing age in a state where 38 percent of the population is Latino. H.B. 2 is widely considered to be one of the most restrictive abortion laws in America. It was signed into law by then-governor—and current presidential hopeful—Rick Perry.
The three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the state of Texas can legally require all abortion clinics to conform to the same building, equipment and staffing requirements as hospital-style surgical centers. Abortion rights advocates argue that this provision amounts to a forced closure of many clinics.
The judges said that a provision that requires doctors who perform abortions in clinics must have admitting privileges at a hospital located within 30 miles did not represent an unconstitutional burden on patients seeking abortions, with the exception of those who seek care from a particular doctor based in McAllen, Texas.
While the Republican-heavy legislature that passed the law in 2013 contends that the provisions will improve safety, pro-choice advocates argue that they actually restrict access by forcing women to travel long distances to access care. And the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposed the law via a friend of the court brief, writing, “H.B. 2 does not serve the health of women in Texas but instead jeopardizes women’s health by restricting access to abortion providers.”
The clinics have vowed to file an immediate appeal to the decision, and have asked the Fifth Circuit court, whose record is largely conservative, to stay their decision during the appeal. If the court doesn’t agree, attorneys will seek an emergency stay from the Supreme Court, which pauses proceedings while the justices decide if they will hear the case. If neither tactic succeeds, the full force of the law would go into effect in just three weeks.
“Not since before Roe v. Wade has a law or court decision had the potential to devastate access to reproductive health care on such a sweeping scale. Once again, women across the state of Texas face the near total elimination of safe and legal options for ending a pregnancy, and the denial of their constitutional rights,” Nancy Northup, the president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “The Supreme Court’s prior rulings do not allow for this kind of broadside legislative assault on women’s rights and health care. 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.”