Update: Associate District Judge Sheryl McFarlin ordered UGH to temporarily reinstate the doctors' admitting privileges pending an April 30 hearing.
Last month, an appeals court upheld a key provision of Texas' new anti-abortion law requiring doctors performing the procedure to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. A women's health clinic in El Paso was the first casualty. Two Dallas providers, Abortion Advantage and the Routh Street Women's Clinic could be next.
The doctors overseeing the two respective clinics, Lamar Robinson and Jasbir Ahluwalia, respectively, are suing in an attempt to keep that from happening. They say Dallas' University General Hospital granted, and then illegally revoked, their admitting privileges in violations of state law.
According to their lawsuit, neither Robinson nor Ahluwalia had hospital admitting privileges before the state Legislature passed HB 2 in 2013. They applied for privileges only after the bill became law. UGH granted Robinson's application in December and Ahluwalia's a month later.
UGH CEO Chuck Schuetz had second thoughts once anti-abortion protesters started picketing his hospital. According to the doctors' lawsuit, he assured protesters that the facility was pro-life and sent Robinson and Ahluwalia a letter dated March 31.
"[I]t has come to our attention that you perform 'voluntary interruption of pregnancies' as a regular part of your medical practice," he wrote, claiming that "performing these procedures is disruptive to the business and reputation of UGH."
Up until now, the main argument against HB 2 has been on constitutional grounds, but that strategy has gotten nowhere, stymied by the conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Robinson and Ahluwalia are trying a different approach. Their challenge is filed in state court and based on state law. In a bit of legal jiu jitsu, the doctors take a provision of Texas abortion law preventing discrimination against health care providers who refuse to perform abortions and try to turn it to their advantage.
The statute reads like this:
A hospital or health care facility may not discriminate against a physician, nurse, staff member, or employee because of the person's willingness to participate in an abortion procedure at another facility.
Their interpretation of the anti-discrimination provision as applying to doctors both willing and unwilling to perform abortions is bolstered by a brief recently filed with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott:
Texas law....ensur[es] that doctors who perform abortions will not encounter discrimination from the hospitals that must decide whether to award them admitting privileges. Not only does Texas law expressly prohibit hospitals from discriminating against doctors who perform abortions, it also confers a private right of action on victims of this unlawful discrimination.
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Robinson and Ahluwalia have stopped performing abortions since they learned their admitting privileges had been revoked. Both have had to cancel dozens of appointments and will likely be forced to close their practices if their admitting privileges aren't restored.
Here's the letter the doctors received from UGH: