Texas abortion providers head back to federal court in Austin today, challenging two parts the state’s omnibus anti-abortion law: the requirement that abortion facilities operate as hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers, and the mandate that abortion-providing doctors have admitting privileges at local hospitals, specifically how it has affected doctors and patients in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso.
More than half of Texas’ legal abortion providers have closed their doors in the wake of the passage of HB 2, and if a federal judge does not block the implementation of the last plank of HB 2—the ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirement—just six of Texas’ existing legal abortion providers will be able to remain open.
“This is a battle to stop the politicians who have already done devastating and potentially irreparable harm to the health care system for women in Texas from obliterating it entirely for millions of women statewide,” said Nancy Northup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is heading up the challenge to HB 2 in court, in a press release Monday morning.
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Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which once operated five abortion facilities in the state, says she has already been forced to close three of her clinics. Of the two that are left, in Fort Worth and San Antonio, only the latter is an ambulatory surgical center.
“Whole Woman’s Health remains committed to fighting back against these underhanded attacks on women’s health and rights and do everything in our power to continue providing Texas women with the high quality reproductive health care they need and deserve,” said Hagstrom Miller.
HB 2, an earlier version of which made national news as the law that Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis filibustered for 13 hours in June 2013, is a four-part law: in addition to mandating that abortion facilities operate as ASC’s and requiring Texas doctors who provide abortion care to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, it bans abortion after 20 weeks and puts heavy restrictions on the prescription of medication abortions. The Texans who choose medication abortions—at the few remaining providers who will prescribe it—now must return to their doctors for four separate visits to take the pills in-office.
The ASC provision is set to go into effect on September 1, barring an injunction from the federal court this week, though either the State of Texas or the plaintiffs could appeal any unfavorable rulings and the ultimate decision on HB 2 is expected by many to be made by the Supreme Court.
The judge hearing this week’s challenge, Judge Lee Yeakel, also heard abortion providers’ earlier challenges to HB 2 last year concerning the statewide affects of the admitting privileges requirement, and sided with the plaintiffs. But the State of Texas immediately appealed his decision to the famously conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which ultimately upheld that part of HB 2 as constitutional.