By Laurel Brubaker Calkins
(Bloomberg) –- Texas won reinstatement of strict abortion limits that may close all but a handful of clinics in the second-largest U.S. state.
A federal appeals court agreed Tuesday that the state’s interest in safeguarding patient safety outweighs the inconvenience to women who must travel long distances to gain access to the procedure.
Women’s rights advocates vowed to seek an emergency order from the U.S. Supreme Court to keep the clinics open if they can’t persuade the New Orleans-based appeals court to postpone enforcement of the restrictions. The clinics may be forced to close within a month if the Texas law is allowed to take effect.
“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,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which challenged the law. “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.”
The law closes abortion clinics that can’t meet the state’s strict building code for outpatient surgical centers. It also requires doctors to have local hospital-admitting privileges, which the state said was put in place to raise “the standard of care for abortion patients.''
Together, the two provisions will shutter all but eight abortion clinics, most of which are clustered in the central and eastern parts of the state.
The three-judge appellate panel made a narrow exception to prevent Texas from enforcing either provision against the last remaining clinic in the Rio Grande Valley.
“It’s just not clear right now whether that clinic will be able to continue to provide services,” Stephanie Toti, a senior lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a conference call with reporters.
However, the court rejected pleas by women’s health advocates for a similar exception for the last remaining clinic in El Paso. They sought to keep west Texas women from having to travel more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) to clinics in central Texas, or cross state lines to access a clinic in New Mexico.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, hailed the ruling in a statement, saying it “protects the unborn and ensures Texas women are not subjected to unsafe and unhealthy conditions.”
The case is Whole Women’s Health v. Lakey, 14-50928, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (New Orleans).