A federal judge struck down a Texas law requiring abortion doctors to be affiliated with local hospitals, a tactic tried by opponents in several states to restrict the procedure, beginning what may be a climb to the U.S. Supreme Court.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin ruled that compulsory affiliation “does not bear a rational relationship to the legitimate right of the state in preserving and promoting fetal life or a woman’s health.”
Texas is the most populous state to pass comprehensive clinic regulations. The legislation signed in July by Republican Governor Rick Perry requires abortion facilities to become outpatient surgical centers and -- until Yeakel ruled otherwise -- that their doctors have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. At least three clinics shut because of it, bringing closings in the state to at least six since 2011.
“The state has already appealed the court’s ruling,” said Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who is running to succeed Perry. “As everyone -- including the trial court judge -- has acknowledged, this is a matter that will ultimately be resolved by the appellate courts or the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The Texas ruling was only a partial victory for abortion-rights advocates. Yeakel allowed the state to enforce restrictions on using drugs to terminate pregnancy, except when the mother’s health is at extreme risk.
Perry said the decision “will not stop our ongoing efforts to protect life and ensure the women of our state aren’t exposed to any more of the abortion-mill horror stories.”
The restrictions prompted an 11-hour filibuster in June by state Senator Wendy Davis, drawing national attention to the Fort Worth Democrat and providing the springboard for her campaign for governor.
“Texas families are stronger and healthier when women across the state have access to quality health care,” Davis said yesterday in a statement. “As a mother, I would rather see our tax dollars spent on improving our kid’s schools than defending this law.”
The challenge to the law was filed by the New York-based American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Those organizations, in a statement issued jointly with Planned Parenthood, praised Yeakel’s decision on the hospital-affiliation rule, while criticizing his decision to let the bulk of the drug-induced abortion restriction stand.
The decision on hospital affiliation “has averted a catastrophic health crisis for women,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “Politicians, not doctors, pushed for both these unconstitutional restrictions.”
The medication ruling “will force providers to use less-safe methods,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director for the ACLU, said in a statement.
The opponents contended the requirements threatened the ability of women to obtain the constitutionally protected procedure in large swaths of the second-most populous U.S. state. Proponents of the legislation said they were necessary to protect women’s health.
Yeakel, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, said his role wasn’t to decide whether women should be allowed abortions. The issue was whether the challenged legislation fell within “existing constitutional confines.”
The case is Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Services v. Abbott, 13-cv-00862, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (Austin).