Planned Parenthood and other women’s health activists are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to step into their fight to block new restrictions on Texas abortion providers.
The groups filed an emergency petition today to freeze the law after a New Orleans-based federal appeals court last week said the measure could take effect. The appellate court put on hold a trial judge’s Oct. 28 ruling that the new limits and requirements were unconstitutional.
“The evidence showed that, absent an injunction, the law would have an unprecedented and devastating effect on women’s abilities to obtain an abortion,” Janet Crepps, the activists’ attorney, said in the application to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who oversees emergency requests for the appeals court thats jurisdiction includes Texas.
Scalia told Texas to respond to the request by Nov. 12.
The high court today dismissed what would have been its first abortion showdown since 2007, backing out of a clash over an Oklahoma law that sought to restrict drug-induced procedures.
The court left intact an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision that struck down a 2011 state law on the grounds it put an unconstitutional burden on women seeking an abortion.
“In just the few short days since the injunction was lifted, over one-third of the facilities providing abortions in Texas have been forced to stop providing that care and others have been forced to drastically reduce the number of patients to whom they are able to provide care,” Crepps said.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, signed sweeping new restrictions on abortion into law this year, in spite of a last-ditch effort by Democrats, led by State Senator Wendy Davis, to kill the law with a filibuster.
“We believe the Fifth Circuit panel’s unanimous decision was correct and will continue to defend the law before the U.S. Supreme Court,” Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, said in an e-mail statement.
Activists sued to block the new restrictions in federal court in Austin. After a three-day nonjury trial last month, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel granted an injunction permanently preventing Texas from enforcing two measures, including a requirement that doctors have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles (48 kilometers) of the clinics where they perform abortions.
Planned Parenthood presented evidence at trial that many doctors who perform abortions lacked local hospital admitting privileges in Texas and would have to stop performing them immediately. This would leave women in wide swaths of the second-largest state without ready access to the procedure, the clinics said.
Texas appealed Yeakel’s ruling the following day and won an emergency order from the New Orleans appellate court that overturned his decision. The appellate judges said the activists weren’t likely to succeed on appeal so Texas should be allowed to begin enforcing its new abortion restrictions right away.
“This can’t be what the Supreme Court intended” in establishing guidelines for what restrictions states can legally impose on abortion, Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said on a conference call with reporters.
“They can’t have meant to give politicians and state legislators license to do underhandedly what they can’t do directly, which is to pass trumped-up regulations to shut down clinics or ban abortion entirely,” she said.
Ken Lambrecht, president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said his organization canceled appointments for 100 women who had abortion procedures scheduled for Nov. 1. He said as many as 20,000 women a year seeking abortions in Texas could be turned away unless the court blocks the hospital-privileges law.
“These are women who’ve made a deeply personal and complex decision, but because of politicians are losing access to their constitutionally protected rights,” Lambrecht told reporters on the conference call. “These women will continue to seek this care if it’s safe and accessible or not.”
Other federal courts have reviewed other states’ abortion restrictions, and the Fifth Circuit’s ruling in favor of Texas’s limits is “an outlier among these opinions,” Crepps said.
“The majority of courts that have looked at this so far have gotten it right,” she said. “The Fifth Circuit got it all wrong.”
Scalia can temporarily reinstate the Austin judge’s injunction and block Texas from enforcing the admitting-privileges rule by finding the law causes irreparable injury during the time it is being debated in court, Crepps said.
Texas and the activist groups will argue the full merits of the state’s restrictions to the New Orleans appellate court in January, Crepps said. The loser could then attempt to bring the case back to the high court for full review.
The case is Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Services v. Abbott, 13-A-452, U.S. Supreme Court. The lower-court case is Planned Parenthood v. Abbott, 13-cv-00862, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (Austin). The appellate case is Planned Parenthood vs. Abbott, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (New Orleans).