At the start of 2013, there were 41 abortion clinics in Texas. Then the state’s Republican-controlled legislature, which had already cut funding for family-planning services and reduced the availability of subsidized contraception, passed a law requiring doctors performing abortions at clinics to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. That’s often tough, because many hospitals refuse to be associated with abortion providers. Today only 17 of the state’s clinics remain in business.
Now a federal appeals court in New Orleans is weighing whether to uphold another part of the Texas law mandating that abortion clinics meet building codes for surgical outpatient centers, such as having hallways wide enough to accommodate stretchers. Lawmakers who voted for the bill say their goal was to protect patient safety, but abortion providers say the expense of remodeling or moving to meet the standards would force all but seven of the remaining facilities to close. That, abortion rights activists say, violates a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says states can’t place an “undue burden” on women seeking to terminate their pregnancies. “Texas now seeks to do indirectly what, for 40 years, it has been unable to do directly: eliminate millions of women’s access to safe and legal abortion services,” lawyers for the plaintiffs said in court filings.