More than half of Texas’s remaining abortion clinics must close as women’s rights advocates keep fighting to overturn strict regulations that could leave the second-largest U.S. state with just eight facilities.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans refused on Friday to suspend its ruling in Texas’s favor while the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to hear the dispute.
The same appeals court ruled this month 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 asked the Supreme Court late Friday to issue an emergency order to keep the clinics open.
“The Supreme Court needs to halt this,” Nancy Northup, president of Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “Millions of Texas women cannot simply wait for months as this legal battle continues.”
Unless the Supreme Court blocks the law from taking effect on July 1, Texas’s restrictions will leave no abortion clinics open in the western half of the state, requiring women there to travel more than 500 miles to San Antonio or cross state lines into New Mexico to access abortions.
The New Orleans court previously ruled the last remaining clinic in the Rio Grande Valley could stay open under certain conditions, so women from the poverty-stricken border region wouldn’t have to travel more than 200 miles to reach clinics in central Texas. The court altered its ruling Friday to require the South Texas facility to comply with some portions of the new law by Oct. 29.
Three appellate judges appointed by Republican President George W. Bush gave Texas the green-light to enforce its controversial abortion restrictions over objections by women’s rights groups that the measures do nothing to improve patient safety.
The clinics said in court filings that the Supreme Court will “very likely” agree to hear the dispute, and there’s a “significant possibility” the justices will reverse the New Orleans court’s decision and strike down the law.
Texas had more than 40 licensed clinics before the Republican-controlled legislature passed the law in 2013. It has taken effect in stages, and about 20 clinics are now open, most clustered in the central and eastern parts of the state.
Texas’s law closes abortion clinics that can’t meet strict building code and procedural requirements for outpatient surgery centers. It also requires doctors to have local hospital-admitting privileges, which the state said in court papers would raise “the standard of care for abortion patients.”
Texas asked the judges to let the restrictions take effect because it’s “far from certain” the Supreme Court will agree to take the case.
Texas estimates nine or 10 facilities can remain open under the new law. Women living in Texas towns that lose their current providers will still be within 150 miles driving distance of a remaining clinic, which the New Orleans court previously decided wasn’t far enough to create an unconstitutional hardship on women seeking an abortion, state lawyers said.
The case is Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, 14-50928, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (New Orleans).