Texas Continues to Fight Back: El Paso Clinic Reopens Following Supreme Court Action Blocking Sham Abortion Restrictions

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Texas Continues to Fight Back: El Paso Clinic Reopens Following Supreme Court Action Blocking Sham Abortion Restrictions

WASHINGTON - After being forced to close its doors in early 2014 due to Texas’ clinic shutdown law, an El Paso clinic reopened today and announced it will start offering abortion services again next week.

Reproductive Services—a non-profit organization with over 37 years offering safe and legal abortion to the women of El Paso—is among the coalition of women’s health care providers who asked the Supreme Court earlier this month to overturn the Texas clinic shutdown law, HB2.

HB2 requires that all abortion providers obtain local hospital admitting privileges--a mandate that has already forced the closure of over half the clinics in the state. The regulations also require every reproductive health care facility offering abortion services to meet the same hospital-like building standards as an ambulatory surgical center (ASC), which would require millions of dollars in medically unnecessary construction costs.  

The U.S. Supreme Court has twice intervened in this case to prevent these requirements from closing additional clinics—first, on October 14, 2014, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed a permanent injunction from the trial court, and again on June 29, 2015, after the Fifth Circuit issued a final decision upholding the requirements.  As a result of the Supreme Court’s actions, the ASC requirement is currently blocked statewide, and the admitting-privileges requirement is currently blocked with respect to Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen and Reproductive Services of El Paso, which are located in regions of the State that had been most devastated by HB2. 

Despite these rulings, the Texas Department of State Health Services refused to issue Reproductive Services a license to reopen the El Paso clinic until late last month, when the trial court threatened to hold the agency in contempt.

“Reproductive Services reopening their doors means the women of El Paso and West Texas can once again access safe and legal reproductive health care options that they need and deserve,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.  “We are proud to stand with them as they bravely fight against these unrelenting attacks on abortion care in Texas. 

“We now look to the Supreme Court to ensure high-quality providers like Reproductive Services can remain open and reject the cynical maneuvering of politicians who are standing between Texas women and their constitutional rights.”

If the Supreme Court fails to take the Texas case or ultimately preserves the clinic shutdown law, Reproductive Services would be forced to close again along with many of the state’s other remaining abortion clinics, resulting in a 75% percent reduction in clinics since HB2 was enacted and cutting off access to safe and legal abortions for millions of Texas women.

Major medical groups oppose the types of restrictions found in Texas’ clinic shutdown law. The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) jointly submitted an amicus brief opposing the law to the Fifth Circuit, stating that “H.B. 2 does not serve the health of women in Texas but instead jeopardizes women’s health by restricting access to abortion providers.” Medical experts confirm that legal abortion care in the U.S. is extremely safe, and that laws like Texas’ would do nothing to make it safer.

Clinic shutdown laws have swept the South in recent years, threatening to further devastate abortion access in a region already facing limited availability of reproductive health care services. The last abortion clinic in Mississippi is awaiting a decision on whether the U.S. Supreme Court will review its state’s clinic shutdown law when the Court’s term starts on October 1 while health care providers in Louisiana are awaiting a federal court ruling which could shutter all but one clinic in the state. Courts have blocked similar measures in OklahomaTennessee, and Alabama.

Case History: Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole (formerly Whole Woman’s Health v. Lakey)

Following a lawsuit brought by the Center for Reproductive rights on behalf of Whole Woman’s Health and several other Texas health care providers in April 2014, a federal district court blocked two of the most harmful restriction of Texas’ House Bill 2 (HB2) in late August 2014: the ambulatory surgical center requirement and the admitting-privileges requirement.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed that decision in large part on October 2, 2014, allowing the requirements to immediately take effect. Because forcing hospital-style surgery center building and staffing requirements on every clinic would amount to a multi-million dollar tax on abortion services, all but 7 reproductive health care facilities in the state were prevented from offering safe and legal abortion services for 12 days. On October 14, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the injunction in large part, allowing many of the previously closed clinics to reopen their doors while the state’s appeal moved forward.

On June 9, 2015, the Fifth Circuit’s final decision in the appeal once again upheld the state restrictions in substantial part, this time threatening to shutter all but 10 abortion providers in the state. Once again, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to block the Fifth Circuit’s decision and allow the clinics to remain open while the legal challenge continued. The Center for Reproductive Rights has now asked the nation’s highest court to formally review the Texas law. The Court is likely to decide whether it will hear the case sometime before the end of 2015.

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The Center for Reproductive Rights uses the law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill.

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