Late Tuesday afternoon, the Supreme Court cleared the way for reopening 13 abortion-providing health clinics that shuttered following an October 2 ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed Texas to begin enforcing the most draconian portions of House Bill 2, the state's 2013 anti-abortion measure. While being hailed as good news by pro-choice advocacy groups, the court order is likely only a temporary road block for Texas anti-choice supporters.
The October 2 5th Circuit ruling allowed the state to enforce HB2 as the state appealed a lower court decision overturning the law. The circuit has not heard oral arguments yet in the appeal, but its granting of the stay means it, or at least the three-judge panel that issued the stay, believes that Texas will prevail in its appeal.
When it does, HB2 will officially become the law of the land in Texas. We know what that means. There will be eight health clinics in the state that can legally provide abortions, one for each 675,000 reproductive-aged women in the state. For now, 21 will be open, still less than half the 44 providers open before any part of HB2 became effective. (The bill's requirement that any doctor performing abortions have admitting privilages at a hospital within 30 miles of his or her clinic led to the earlier closings.)
The SCOTUS order indicates division on the court over the issue. While a vote on removing the stay was not recorded, the order indicates that Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito wanted the stay to remain in place.
The SCOTUS ruling suggests the highest court will eventually take the case. If it does, it would give the right-tilting court the chance to reconsider Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that guaranteed abortion was a private matter to be kept between a woman and her doctor.
At least until the 5th Circuit's final ruling in the appeal, women in Texas will only have partially restricted access to abortion, rather than extremely limited access.
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