A federal judge struck down two provisions of a controversial Texas abortion law on Friday, ruling that they created an unconstitutional burden on women seeking abortions in the state.
US District Judge Lee Yeakel issued the ruling after conducting a trial earlier this month.
At issue were two provisions of a Texas law that required abortion providers to maintain the same building requirements as an ambulatory surgical center.
The law, known as HB 2, also required that any abortion provider have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
The judge found that both provisions when enforced together created a substantial obstacle for women seeking access to abortion services.
“The court concludes that the act’s ambulatory-surgical-center requirements, combined with the already in-effect admitting privileges requirement, creates a brutally effective system of abortion regulation that reduces access to abortion clinics thereby creating a statewide burden for substantial numbers of Texas women,” Judge Yeakel wrote in the 21-page decision.
The judge also concluded that state lawmakers enacted the ambulatory-surgical center requirement with the intention of forcing existing licensed abortion clinics in Texas to close.
The abortion law has forced half of the state’s 40 abortion clinics to close and the judge said that unless the measure was enjoined there would only be seven or eight clinics remaining in the entire state of Texas.
The ambulatory-surgical-center requirement was scheduled to become effective on Monday, September 1.
“Even if the remaining clinics could meet the demand, the court concludes that the practical impact on Texas women due to the clinics’ closure statewide would operate for a significant number of women in Texas just as drastically as a complete ban on abortion,” the judge said.
Women’s rights groups hailed the decision.
“This trial and today’s decision have stripped away the pretexts of the politicians who passed this law and revealed their true intention to deny Texas women access to safe, legal abortion care,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement.
“The court has made clear that women’s well-being is not advanced by laws attacking access to essential health care, and that rights protected by the US Constitution may not be denied through laws that make them impossible to exercise,” she said.
In addition to his state-wide ruling, the judge also ruled that the law’s admitting privileges requirement was unconstitutional as applied to two clinics, one in the Rio Grande Valley and the other in El Paso.
“We are pleased with the court’s decision to strike down HB 2,” Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said in a statement.
“Today, the court affirmed that the purpose of HB 2 was never to protect women, but to make abortion – which is a safe and legal procedure – out of reach in the state of Texas,” she said.
Attorneys for the state denied that women would be burdened by fewer abortion facilities, saying nearly 9 in 10 women in Texas would still live within 150 miles of a provider. Critics say that still leaves nearly a million Texas women embarking on drives longer than three hours to get an abortion.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who is the favorite to become governor next year, vowed to seek an immediate appeal to try to preserve the new clinic rules.
"The State disagrees with the court's ruling and will seek immediate relief from the Fifth Circuit, which has already upheld HB2 once," Abbott spokeswoman Lauren Bean said.
The case is Whole Women’s Health v. Lakey (14cv284).
The report includes material from the Associated Press.