On Thursday, a panel of judges refused to overturn the stringent new abortion restrictions that were enacted in Texas over the summer. The conservative three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans wasn’t expected to be sympathetic to arguments about Texas women’s reproductive rights, despite the fact that the new law has virtually eliminated access to abortion care for low-income and rural women in huge swaths of the state.
“This is an extremely disappointing day for Texas women, especially those living in rural and poor areas most harmed by this politically motivated law,” Terri Burke, the executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “The law does nothing to protect women’s health. Instead, it severely limits women’s medical options.”
Dozens of Texas clinics have been forced to close due to the new law, which imposes strict new regulations on abortion providers that are often impossible to meet. Back in 2011, there were 44 facilities in Texas that offered abortion care. By next fall, when the rest of Texas’ new law takes effect, that number is expected to drop to just six.
During the oral arguments on the issue back in January, one of the members of the panel, Judge Edith Jones, scoffed at the idea that Texas women might have a hard time getting to a clinic. After lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights argued that the residents of the impoverished Rio Grande Valley don’t have any available providers, forcing them to make an 300-mile round trip to Corpus Christi to get to the nearest clinic, Judge Edith Jones was skeptical. “Do you know how long that takes in Texas at 75 miles an hour? This is a peculiarly flat and not congested highway,” she responded.
In fact, the women who need reproductive health care often have an extremely difficult time accessing abortion care, particularly now that states have imposed an increasing number of barriers to the legal procedure. Forty two percent of the U.S. women who seek abortions are living in poverty, and typically don’t have the money for childcare, transportation, or time off work to make a long trip to a facility located hundreds of miles away. Researchers in Texas have estimated that the new state law will result in 22,000 impoverished Texas women denied access to abortion care this year.
Texas isn’t the only state that has imposed these type of harsh abortion laws, and courts in other areas have overturned them. Another appeal in Texas could set up the issue for a Supreme Court challenge.
Reproductive rights advocates are rallying for the Lone Star State’s upcoming gubernatorial election, vowing to make abortion rights a serious election issue. Activists on the ground have been organizing events across the state to speak out about the women’s health care crisis.