A federal judge has sided with reproductive rights advocates to declare one of Texas’ new abortion restrictions unconstitutional, ensuring that one of the provisions in a sweeping new anti-choice law will not take effect this week.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel heard the case last week and had promised to issue a ruling before the bill, HB 2, was scheduled to take go into place on Tuesday. Texas’ GOP-led legislature enacted HB 2 over the summer, after the dramatic debate over the proposed restrictions was elevated to the national stage. All eyes were on Texas after state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) filibustered the bill for 11 hours straight during a special legislative session in June. Less than 24 hours after Davis successfully blocked the bill, however, Gov. Rick Perry (R) called yet another special session to force the legislation through.
In September, more than a dozen women’s health providers sued the state to block several of HB 2’s provisions from taking effect. Their challenge specifically concerned the provisions requiring abortion clinics to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals — a medically unnecessary requirement that ultimately forces clinics to close when they’re unable to comply — and requiring doctors to use an outdated protocol to administer the abortion pill. They pointed out that the combination of those two restrictions would have “catastrophic” effects on abortion access in the state.
In his opinion, Yeakel noted that the “admitting-privileges provision is without a rational basis and places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.” Similar logic has led several federal judges to block identical provisions in other states. Yeakel did not completely strike down the provision related to medication-induced abortions, determining that women whose lives are at risk should be able to follow the off-label procedure for taking the abortion pill.
The ruling also does not affect several of the other provisions in Texas’ omnibus law, such as the requirement that abortion clinics need to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers — which won’t take effect until 2014 — or the ban that outlaws abortion procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Women’s health advocates have estimated that taken together, the harsh new regulations could force the vast majority of the state’s clinics to close, leaving more than 22,000 Texas women without any safe options for terminating a pregnancy. They warn that the law will force more low-income women to cross the border into Mexico to obtain illegal and unsafe abortion-inducing drugs. Striking the admitting privileges provision will help somewhat improve this situation, but abortion rights activists have already vowed to keep fighting the rest of HB 2.