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Federal Court Upholds Texas Attack on Women's Right to Choose

Appeals court decision will allow state to maintain law that has forced one-third of clinics that provide abortions and other health services for women

Jon Queally, staff writer

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld controversial portions of a Texas law that reproductive rights groups and civil liberty advocates say strips women of their constitutional right to have an abortion while restricting access to other health services across the state.

The ruling, made by the 3-judge panel of New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, upholds the portion of the law known as HB2, passed by the Texas legislature last year amid loud protest from women across the state, that requires doctors who provide abortions to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital.

This requirement, however, directly harms women’s health and interferes with the doctor-patient relationship, according to leading medical associations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA). As the ACLU points out, no other set of medical professionals in the state are required to have admitting privileges.

Moreover, say pro-choice groups, the rule infringes on the constitutionally protected right to have an abortion by stripping access to care and services that would otherwise exist.

“The Fifth Circuit has turned a blind eye to the very real and devastating consequences that this law has had on thousands of Texas women, erecting barriers to abortion so high that women are simply left with no legal or safe options," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Right now, the state of Texas is gutting the constitutional protections afforded by Roe v. Wade more than 40 years ago, leaving large swaths of Texas left without a provider."

And Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, shared that sentiment and said the state's most vulnerable would suffer the most. She said: "The women who will be most impacted by this ruling have already lost access to birth control and preventive health care because of reckless decisions by politicians over the last several years. The latest restrictions in Texas will force women to have abortions later in pregnancy, if they are able to get to a doctor at all."

Representatives from the ACLU, which along with other plaintiffs representing clinicians and providers challenged the law in court which led to Thursday's ruling, called the decision an affront to women and constitutional guarantees.

"Texas women deserve better than to have extremist politicians endanger their health and safety by preventing them from accessing safe and legal abortion," said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "The law is having a devastating impact on women in Texas, and the court should have struck it down."

And Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said Thursday was a very disappointing day for Texas, and for Texan women in particular.

"The law does nothing to protect women’s health," Burke said. "Instead, it severely limits women’s medical options. And from the time it was introduced, the people of Texas made it clear we didn’t want it, because it harms the well-being of women and their families."

All those who expressed outrage at the decision, however, also vowed to fight on.

"This court ruling is not the last word," said Richards. "We are fighting on every front on behalf of the women across Texas who are counting on us. Planned Parenthood will continue providing services, including abortion, to women across the state, we will combat these laws in the courts, and our separate political arm will mobilize voters to replace lawmakers who champion these dangerous laws in the first place."

And Northrup vowed: “We remain committed to standing with Texas health care providers, Texas women, and our partners in considering every necessary step to end this health crisis and restore the essential health care that has been unconstitutionally stripped away.”


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