Court blocks Texas abor­tion law

Jus­tices vote 5 to 4 to keep the state from en­forc­ing new rules that were ex­pected to close most clin­ics.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By David G. Sav­age and Maria L. La Ganga david. sav­age@ latimes. com Twit­ter: @ DavidGSav­age maria. la­ganga @ latimes. com Twit­ter: @ mar­i­ala­ganga Sav­age re­ported from Washington and La Ganga from Seat­tle.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court by a 5- 4 vote blocked the state of Texas, at least for now, from en­forc­ing a strict new abor­tion law that was likely to close most of the state’s re­main­ing abor­tion clin­ics.

The mea­sure would re­quire the clin­ics to have doc­tors on staff who have ad­mit­ting priv­i­leges at a lo­cal hos­pi­tal. But in part be­cause of the strong op­po­si­tion to abor­tion, doc­tors have been un­able to ob­tain those priv­i­leges in large parts of the state.

The law also re­quires the clin­ics to meet the stan­dards of an out­pa­tient surgery cen­ter. The com­bi­na­tion of the two rules was ex­pected to close all but nine of the state’s abor­tion clin­ics. There were 41 clin­ics op­er­at­ing be­fore the law was ap­proved in 2013; to­day, only 19 re­main open.

The U. S. 5th Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals in New Or­leans this month up­held the law as con­sti­tu­tional. Lawyers for the abor­tion clin­ics on June 19 urged the jus­tices to de­lay any en­force­ment of these new re­stric­tions while they pre­pare an ap­peal.

On Mon­day, abor­tion rights ac­tivists and providers heaved a sigh of re­lief that what they deem to be po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and dan­ger­ous in­tru­sions into women’s lives have been put on hold. Texas of­fi­cials vowed to keep fight­ing a de­ci­sion by the high­est court that Atty. Gen. Ken Pax­ton said “just put Texas women in harm’s way.”

The law in ques­tion is HB 2, an om­nibus pack­age of abor­tion re­stric­tions that Pax­ton said in a state­ment Mon­day “en­sures abor­tion clin­ics and doc­tors meet ba­sic health stan­dards if they choose to op­er­ate their busi­ness in Texas. To­day’s de­lay sub­jects Texas women to sub­stan­dard care all to the ben­e­fit of the abor­tion in­dus­try’s bot­tom line.”

Gov. Greg Ab­bott had de­fended the abor­tion re­stric­tions as Texas’ then- at­tor­ney gen­eral, and con­tin­ued to sup­port the re­stric­tions af­ter win­ning the gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion in Novem­ber. He de­scribed HB 2 as “a con­sti­tu­tional ex­er­cise of Texas’ law­mak­ing au­thor­ity,” and said in a state­ment Mon­day that he is “con­fi­dent the Supreme Court will ul­ti­mately up­hold this law.”

By is­su­ing the stay or­der, the high court pre­vents Texas from en­forc­ing the law. This will re­main in ef­fect “pend­ing the timely fil­ing and dis­po­si­tion” of the ap­peal of the lower court rul­ing, the court stated. The jus­tices, how­ever, will not meet again to con­sider the ap­peal pe­ti­tions un­til the end of Septem­ber.

The Cen­ter for Re­pro­duc­tive Rights, which sued Texas on be­half of sev­eral clin­ics, had sought the stay from the Supreme Court to gain some time and plans to ap­peal the 5th Cir­cuit’s rul­ing within the next 90 days. Had the high court not acted, the re­stric­tions would have gone into ef­fect Wed­nes­day, forc­ing the clin­ics to close.

“The jus­tices have pre­served Texas women’s few re­main­ing op­tions for safe and le­gal abor­tion care for the mo­ment. Now it’s time to put a stop to these clinic shut­down laws once and for all,” said Nancy Northup, the cen­ter’s pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive.

In a con­fer­ence call with re­porters, Northup said it was f it­ting that the jus­tices acted on Mon­day, the 23rd an­niver­sary of another cru­cial rul­ing, Planned Par­ent­hood vs. Casey. In that case, the Supreme Court up­held a woman’s right to have an abor­tion but al­lowed states to place re­stric­tions on the pro­ce­dure as long as they did not cre­ate an “un­due bur­den.”

That phrase has been lit­i­gated ever since.

Amy Hagstrom Miller is founder and pres­i­dent of the clinic net­work Whole Woman’s Health, which sued the state to block HB 2. She called the law a “thinly veiled at­tempt to make abor­tion un­avail­able and un­af­ford­able by clos­ing down clin­ics.” She also said Whole Woman’s Health is “com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that Texas women know that abor­tion is still le­gal and, de­spite anti- choice politi­cians’ ef­forts, it is still avail­able.”

The f ight, Hagstrom Miller said dur­ing the con­fer­ence call with Northup, “is far from over.... We are in it for the long haul, and to­day is a re­ally good day.”

But NARAL Pro- Choice Texas Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Heather Busby was less san­guine Mon­day. She called the jus­tices’ emer­gency stay “a tem­po­rary vic­tory” and said that it just “post­pones a public health dis­as­ter.”

“If al­lowed to go into full ef­fect, HB 2 will dev­as­tate ac­cess to re­pro­duc­tive healthcare,” Busby said in a state­ment. “Healthcare should not de­pend on your ZIP Code or your bank bal­ance. We can celebrate this de­ci­sion to­day, but the re­al­ity is that Tex­ans’ health and safety are still in jeop­ardy.”

Be­yond its ef­fect on Texas clin­ics, the Supreme Court vote it­self was sig­nif­i­cant be­cause Jus­tice An­thony M. Kennedy joined the court’s four lib­eral jus­tices to grant the or­der.

If the high court takes up a con­sti­tu­tional chal­lenge to abor­tion reg­u­la­tions, Kennedy will be seen as the de­cid­ing vote.

Chief Jus­tice John G. Roberts Jr. and Jus­tices An­tonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Sa­muel A. Al­ito Jr. dis­sented.

Typ­i­cally, the court grants emer­gency ap­peals when a ma­jor­ity of the jus­tices thinks the lower court rul­ing may be in er­ror and may cause real harm in the in­terim.

Eric Gay As­so­ci­ated Press

PROTESTERS in Austin call for abor­tion rights in Fe­bru­ary. On Mon­day, lead­ers of the move­ment said their f ight was far from over.

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