A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld portions of Texas’s controversial abortion law in a ruling that pro-choice groups say could put most abortion clinics in the state at risk of closure.
Soon after the ruling, the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented clinics and doctors in the case, announced plans to ask the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to put the ruling on hold pending an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Texas’s abortion law is considered by some to be one of the toughest in the nation. At issue are provisions concerning physicians’ admitting privileges in some abortion facilities as well as a requirement that clinics upgrade their facilities to meet hospital-like standards. Other provisions of the law have already gone into effect, and the ones in Tuesday’s ruling were at issue in recent challenges.
The appeals court ruled that the law’s provisions may be applied throughout the state, save for exceptions in a facility in McAllen, which is significantly far enough away from other clinics that its closure might place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion.
The Center for Reproductive Rights believes the ruling won’t go into effect for 22 days barring an emergency action by a higher court.
Supporters of the law, which was enacted in 2013, say the provisions were passed to raise the standard and quality of care for women seeking abortions and to protect their health. But opponents claim the provisions are unnecessary and impose burdensome costs on clinics.
“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,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the Center of Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “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.”
She added: “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.”
But Texas Gov. Greg Abbott praised the ruling in a statement.
“I am pleased with the Fifth Circuit’s decision to uphold HB 2 and the State of Texas will continue to fight for higher-quality healthcare standards for women while protecting our most vulnerable: the unborn,” he said.
A district court struck down the provisions in 2014, but last October, the appeals court allowed them to take effect while the appeal process played out. The Supreme Court stepped in soon after and reinstated the district court ruling pending appeal.
In 2013, there were about 36 abortion clinics in the state. Before Tuesday’s decision, that number had dwindled to around 20.
The Supreme Court is currently considering whether to take up a similar case in Mississippi.
Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, believes the Supreme Court is “likely” to be interested in the Texas case because the issues raised touch upon precedent established in other abortion rulings.