Judge Rules Texas Abortion Law Unconstitutional — A Major Victory For Texas Women

More than a year after Texas Sen. Wendy Davis' heroic 11-hour filibuster to block one of the harshest anti-abortion bills in the nation, Texas women have finally received a major victory. A federal judge ruled unconstitutional Texas' HB2 — the anti-abortion measure brought to national attention by Davis and her pink sneakers, and made famous by its subsequent devastating impact. Following its passage in 2013, dozens of abortion clinics have closed across the state, leaving millions of Texas women — particularly in southern and western Texas — with no access to abortion care.

HB2 banned abortion procedures after 20 weeks post-fertilization (or 22 weeks of pregnancy) and required all abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within a 30-mile radius, the latter of which was a tactic used to target abortion clinics in Mississippi and Alabama. But HB2 also took it one step further, mandating that abortions must be performed in an ambulatory surgical center — an expensive and unnecessary medical requirement, according to Texas abortion providers.

Because only late-term abortions need to be performed in an ambulatory surgical center, just a handful of Texas abortion clinics met these regulations. By Sept. 1, women's health experts said just six clinics may be left in Texas — and all of them will be located in metropolitan areas in the eastern part of the state.

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Although Texas' Republican-controlled legislature heralded HB2 as a women's health victory, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, of the District Court for the Western District of Texas, said the law placed an undue burden on Texas women seeking abortion care. The judge concluded in his 21-page opinion:

The court concludes that the act's ambulatory-surgical-center requirement ... creates a brutally effective system of abortion regulation that reduces access to abortion clinics thereby creating a statewide burden for substantial numbers of Texas women. ... The court also concludes that the severity of the burden imposed by both requirements is not balanced by the weight of the interests underlying them. To the extent that the State argues that the act's requirements are motivated by a legitimate interest in fetal life, the court finds those arguments misplaced.

With this ruling, Yeakel has blocked the ambulatory requirement from taking effect on Sept. 1. The judge also enjoined the admitting privileges requirement to two West Texas clinics that were forced to close. However, the admitting privileges mandate is still enforced for other clinics.

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Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman's Health, which had to close several clinics throughout Texas this year, said she and her staff were "pleased" by the judge's decision. Miller said in a statement on Friday:

As Yakel clearly states in his decision, requiring every abortion clinic to turn into a surgical center is excessive and not based on good medicine. It’s an undue burden for women in Texas—and thankfully today the court agreed. The evidence has been stacking up against the state and against the politicians who so cynically passed these laws in the name of safety.

Miller added that since the passage of HB2, Texas women have been forced to delay their abortion procedures by weeks or even months as they wait for an opening at a nearby clinic. Women are also struggling to pay for travel expenses and child care as women in West Texas or the Rio Grande Valley now have to travel hundreds of miles to the closest abortion clinic.

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