Getting an Abortion in Texas Is Now Almost Impossible. Again.

An ambulatory surgical center certified Planned Parenthood in Dallas.
An ambulatory surgical center certified Planned Parenthood in Dallas.
Stephen Young

And then there were eight. Tuesday afternoon, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed most of a lower court decision that kept most of the state's remaining abortion providers open.

The ruling makes the most onerous provision of Texas 2013 anti-abortion law, House Bill 2, enforceable. Every health clinic in the state — except for one — that wishes to provide abortions will be required to be an ambulatory surgical center (ASC). The state of Texas claims that the ASC mandate protects women's health. Women's health advocates and medical professionals have pointed out the safety of a clinical abortion and asserted that limiting access makes women more likely to seek illegal abortions. Throughout the case, the state has denied the obvious, that HB2 is clearly designed to limit access to Texas woman.

One McAllen clinic will be allowed to remain open without being an ASC, because the three-judge panel agreed with those suing the state that closing it would place an undue burden on women seeking an abortion in South Texas. Making women in the Valley travel 3.5 hours to San Antonio is not acceptable, under the court's ruling, but making women in Abilene travel 2.5 hours to Fort Worth is. So the line is somewhere around three hours.

The circuit's upholding of HB2 was built largely on the precedent established in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a Supreme Court case that affirmed a state's right to limit abortion as long as doing so was "reasonably related" to a "legitimate state interest." That state interest in this case, as seen by the court, is, laughably, protecting women's health by limiting their access to healthcare.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott praised the ruling, as you might expect.

“This unanimous decision is a vindication of the careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women,” he said in a statement. “I am pleased with the Fifth Circuit’s decision to uphold HB 2 and the State of Texas will continue to fight for higher-quality healthcare standards for women while protecting our most vulnerable - the unborn.” 

NARAL Pro-Choice Texas said the 5th Circuit panel, each member of which was appointed by George W. Bush, was imposing its political agenda on women in Texas who might seek an abortion.

"No Texan should have to travel hundreds of miles to access health care. Many Texans will not be able to end their pregnancies safely because they do not have the time or resources it takes to travel long distances to abortion clinics. My heart breaks when I think of the hundreds of thousands of Texans whose health and safety has been compromised by this devastating decision," NARAL Texas Executive Director Heather Busby said.

There is one legal abortion clinic in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and McAllen. There are two legal clinics each in San Antonio and Houston.


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