The fight over Texas’ new anti-abortion law, HB 2, has been through its fair share of twists and turns.
While the legislation was up for consideration during a special session this summer, state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-TX) successfully blocked the bill from coming to a vote with a dramatic 11-hour filibuster that captured the attention of the nation. But HB 2 ultimately ended up passing anyway, and women’s health groups in the state were forced to file a legal challenge against it. They won a victory last Monday, when a federal judge blocked one of the major provisions in the law, ensuring that the abortion clinics in the state would be allowed to continue operating. Just four days later, however, a panel of Republican judges on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided to reinstate that provision while the legal challenge is ongoing. That move has forced clinics to halt their services immediately.
It’s been a series of ups and downs for the reproductive rights community. And it’s far from over.
On Monday, the women’s health groups who filed the initial lawsuit against HB 2 announced that they’re asking the Supreme Court for an emergency injunction against the Fifth Circuit’s decision. That would allow the federal judge’s original decision to stand — so the section of HB 2 requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges from local hospitals would remain blocked from taking effect.
“Right now, women in vast swaths of Texas are being turned away at clinic doors because of a bogus law that attempts to do underhandedly what states cannot do directly — block women from accessing abortion services,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “We now look to the Supreme Court to protect women’s access to these essential health care services while we fight this critical court battle.”
Requiring abortion providers to get admitting privileges essentially means they need to enter into a special arrangement with a hospital, even though hospitals often refuse to partner with abortion clinics. It’s a medically unnecessary provision that’s specifically intended to force clinics to shut down. That’s what’s currently happening in Texas as HB 2 has been allowed to take effect. But an emergency injunction would reverse this reality: Texas’ clinics would be allowed to resume their services, and the women in the state would still be able to access safe, legal abortion care.
“We’re asking the Supreme Court to stop Texas’ dangerous and extreme law from taking effect because your rights — your very ability to make your own medical decisions — should not depend on your zip code,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, noted.
The issue is ripe for a Supreme Court showdown. Admitting privilege requirements have been blocked from taking effect in several other states, and the Fifth Circuit’s recent decision in Texas is the first time that an appeals court has upheld this particular restriction. And — since the current fight is only about whether HB 2 can take effect immediately, or whether it should be blocked until the legal fight over it is resolved — the Fifth Circuit’s final ruling on the case in January could spark a more expansive Supreme Court challenge.
Outside of the court system, reproductive health activists on the ground are still fighting for Texas women, too. For instance, a new nonprofit organization named Fund Texas Women was formed in anticipation of HB 2’s effect on abortion access in the state. It’s raising money to assist the Texans who will have to travel much farther to get to a clinic under the new law, helping cover their transportation and lodging costs. Other nonprofits, like the Lilith Fund, are working with the women whose appointments have been canceled to help them find another clinic that’s still open.
And the abortion doctors who are not currently able to practice don’t want to abandon the state — particularly the large swaths that will be left without a single abortion clinic in the wake of the admitting privileges requirement. “I’m going to continue helping girls somehow,” Dr. Lester Minto, who performed abortions near the Texas-Mexico border before HB 2 took effect, told the Associated Press.