Texas abortion laws back before appeals court

by Courtney Crandell
Posted 1/09/15, 05:00 pm

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Wednesday in a case that will determine the constitutionality of  Texas’ requirement that abortion facilities meet ambulatory surgery facility standards.

The law, passed in 2013, also includes provisions regulating the administration of abortifacients and mandates that abortionists acquire admitting privileges at local hospitals. Since its passage, 23 of the state’s 40 abortion facilities have closed. And depending on the outcome of the hearing, 10 more could close as well, NPR reported.

During the 90-minute hearing, the three-judge panel questioned whether the facility standards—which cover operating rooms, air filtration systems, and other standards typically applied to surgical centers—would increase women’s safety, The New York Times reported. But the judges also criticized a lower court ruling that struck down all the facility standards rather than addressing specific components. According to the Times, the questioning seemed to indicate the panel could send the law back to the district court for a more defined ruling.

“The bill’s requirements that abortion practitioners have hospital admitting privileges and that abortion clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers are not only constitutional but common sense,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. “Courts shouldn’t take the Texas legislature’s decision to protect women’s health out of the hands of Texas citizens and their duly elected representatives.”

Two of the panel members—Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod and Judge Catharina Haynes—have issued favorable rulings on HB2 in the past, giving Texas Right to Life legislative associate Emily Horne hope for another good outcome.

HB2 has been in and out of courts since it passed. In August, a U.S. district judge struck down the ambulatory surgical center requirement as well as the admitting privileges requirement. Judge Lee Yeakel said HB2 created an undue burden on women by forcing them to travel hundreds of miles for their abortions—a key argument made by the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed suit against the law.

In October, the 5th Circuit sided with Texas’ solicitor general and pro-life advocates, ruling the law didn’t create an undue burden. HB2’s surgical center standards and admitting privilege requirements went into affect (except for abortion facilities in McAllen and El Paso) and several abortion facilities closed.

But later that month, the U.S. Supreme Court suspended the 5th Circuit’s ruling by temporarily blocking the ambulatory surgical center standards.

“We agree with the 5th Circuit’s previous finding,” Texas Right to Life said in a statement. “HB2 is valid; in short, this law is key in protecting women’s health in Texas.”

Courtney Crandell

Courtney is a Virginia journalist. Follow her on Twitter @CourtneyLeeC.

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