Strict Texas abortion law gets reprieve, upheld by appeals court

A federal appeals court has upheld a strict Texas abortion law that a lower court had struck down. Similar laws passed in five other states have been blocked in courts.

Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/AP
Abortion rights supporters demonstrate outside the Capitol auditorium in Austin, Texas, after Gov. Rick Perry signed sweeping abortion restrictions, July 18, 2013. A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld Texas's tough new abortion restrictions, overturning a lower court judge who said the rules violate the US Constitution and served no medical purpose.

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld strict new regulations for abortion providers in Texas, reversing an earlier ruling that had declared the controversial measure unconstitutional.

The Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals said the federal judge applied the wrong legal standards and had offered no evidence to support his conclusion that the new regulations had no purpose other than to create a barrier to women seeking abortions.

At issue is a 2013 Texas abortion law that requires doctors performing abortions in the state to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic.

Similar laws passed in five other states have been blocked in the courts.

Women’s rights groups charged that the Texas requirement could cause up to one-third of the abortion clinics in the state to close. They said the requirement imposes an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose an abortion. US District Judge Lee Yeakel agreed and struck down the law.

In reversing that ruling on Thursday, the three-judge appeals court panel said the judge took the wrong legal approach by failing to defer to the judgment of Texas lawmakers.

“It is not the court’s duty to second guess legislative factfinding, ‘improve’ on, or ‘cleanse’ the legislative process by allowing relitigation of the facts that led to the passage of the law,” Appeals Court Judge Edith Jones wrote for the court.

She said that under the required legal test “courts must presume that the law in question is valid and sustain it so long as the law is rationally related to a legitimate state interest.”

Judge Jones said the state’s legislative objectives “easily supplied a connection between the admitting-privileges rule and the desirable protection of abortion patients’ health.”

She noted that roughly 210 women in Texas each year must be hospitalized after an abortion. Requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges could enhance a patient’s treatment during a hospitalization, she said.

As for the federal judge’s finding that many clinics may have to close because of the new admitting privileges requirement, Judge Jones said that judicial finding was “too vague.”

“Although some clinics may be required to shut their doors, there is no showing whatsoever that any woman will lack reasonable access to a clinic within Texas,” Jones wrote.

“All of the major Texas cities … continue to have multiple clinics where many physicians will have or obtain hospital admitting privileges,” she said.

Jones noted that Planned Parenthood (an abortion provider in Texas) had submitted evidence to the federal judge showing that more than 90 percent of Texas women would be able to obtain an abortion at a clinic within 100 miles of their homes even if the new law went into effect.

Jones said: “This does not constitute an undue burden in a large fraction of the relevant cases.”

Reaction to the ruling from women rights groups was swift and harsh.

“This is a terrible court ruling that will severely limit a woman’s access to safe and legal abortion in Texas,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood.

“This court ruling is not the last word,” she said in a statement. “We are fighting on every front on behalf of women across Texas who are counting on us.”

She said her organization would continue to provide abortion services, combat such laws, and work to mobilize voters “to replace lawmakers who champion these dangerous laws in the first place.”

“This is an extremely disappointing day for Texas women, especially those living in rural and poor areas most harmed by this politically motivated law,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas.

“The law does nothing to protect women’s health,” she said in a statement. “Instead, it severely limits women’s medical options.”

The case began as a lawsuit filed in September 2013 seeking to block implementation of the new abortion clinic regulations. The suit is being litigated on behalf of more than a dozen health care providers by lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Lawyers challenging the law can ask the full Fifth Circuit court to review the three-judge decision. The lawyers may also ask the US Supreme Court to take up the case.

The case is Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Services v. Abbott (13-51008).

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Strict Texas abortion law gets reprieve, upheld by appeals court
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today