Texas Can Seek to Stay Ruling Lifting Abortion Limit

Texas was allowed by an appeals court to seek a stay to enforce new abortion restrictions while it appeals a ruling that part of the law is unconstitutional.

Today’s order by the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans follows an earlier one blocking a ruling by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin. Yeakel sided twice with Texas abortion providers in finding state anti-abortion laws imposed unconstitutional restrictions on access to the procedure.

Yesterday, Texas asked the New Orleans appeals court to immediately block Yeakel’s decision that rejected new measures requiring abortion clinics to meet the same strict building-code and staffing requirements as outpatient surgical centers. That law was set to take effect yesterday.

“The emergency arises from the district court’s decision to issue its ruling at 4:45 p.m. on the Friday before the ambulatory surgical center requirements take effect, and Texas requests emergency relief so that its law may take effect without delay,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a Sept. 1 filing with the appeals court.

Texas asked the court to rule “as soon as possible” and rush handling of the appeal, which also covers Yeakel’s decision to allow two clinics in the Rio Grande Valley and West Texas to remain open despite their doctors’ inability to obtain local hospital admitting privileges, as required by an earlier provision of the law.

The appeals court gave the clinics until Sept. 8 to file opposing papers and set oral arguments for Sept. 12, according to the court’s docket. The appeals court deferred ruling on the state’s request to handle the appeal quickly.

Earlier Challenge

Abbott claimed the Austin judge ignored the appeals court’s rulings that rejected an earlier challenge to Texas’s admitting privileges requirement.

On Aug. 29, Yeakel ruled that Texas’s restrictions were so strict they functioned as an effective ban on abortion for the large number of Texas women living in areas without ready access to the remaining clinics. The few Texas clinics that can comply with both the hospital admitting-privileges rule and meet physical and staffing rules for outpatient surgical centers are located in the central and eastern portions of the state. None are south or west of San Antonio, according to court documents.

The case is Whole Woman’s Health v. Lakey, 14-50928, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (New Orleans).

(This story was corrected earlier to reflect the ruling.)