Texas Contentious Abortion Law Headed to Supreme Court

4 years ago

A Texas abortion law seems destined to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court, starting with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday hearing arguments from both sides of the controvesy on whether the law forced the closure of about a dozen clinics.

July 12, 2013 - Austin, Texas, U.S. - Abortion rights supporter SARAH POPE (L) and abortion opponent KATHERINE AGUILLAR (2L) demonstrate at the Capitol while the Texas Senate debates the abortion restriction bill, House Bill 2, on Friday. (Credit Image: © Jay Janner/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com)

The new law, signed by Gov. Rick Perry last summer after a dramatic filibuster led by governor hopeful Sen. Wendy Davis, was challenged in court over two provisions: requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and to administer abortion-causing medication under U.S. Food and Drug Administration protocols established in 2000 blocking newer drug regiments.

The three-judge panel wrote in a preliminary ruling that they believe the state will prevail in the case brought by Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights. The losing side can appeal to the full circuit court. After that, the next appeal would go to the U.S. Supreme Court, which both sides ultimately expect.

In October, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the provisions place an unconstitutional burden on women's access to abortion. But the state of Texas argued that the new requirements promote the health and safety of abortion patients and advance the state's "interest in protecting fetal life."

An Oct. 31 ruling by the 5th Circuit allowed Texas to enforce the law while it appealed the decision. Judges Jennifer Walker Elrod and Catharina Haynes, two of the three judges on the panel that stayed Yeakel's ruling, also heard Monday's arguments.

The most compelling arguments presented over of the hospital admitting priveledges focused on an example from the Rio Grande Valley where the region's two clinics closed after a new law took effect.

Opponents argued those closures  would force women to drive 150 miles to the nearest abortion clinic in  Corpus Cristi. Proponents countered that the Corpus Cristi clinic reported an increase in abortion procedures, indicating that South Texas women's right were not being hampered.

State Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell told the court that the state has a right to regulate medical practices as a way to promote women's health, saying: "The law does not impose an undue burden."

Doctors at some of the state’s 42 abortion clinics have failed to win admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, as the law requires. That prompted 12 clinics to close. Since November, three have reopened as doctors acquired admitting privileges.

That's a much less dramatic number compared to media reports last year claiming that the law would close "almost every abortion clinic in Texas."

Though, the Rio Grande Valley example caused heartburn for some.

The court's attitude led one blog to quip: "No abortion access in the Rio Grande Valley? No huge deal, a federal three-judge panel basically retorted this morning."

Ongoing court activity almost assures the abortion issue to loom large in the 2014 mid-term elections, which may not play well for candidates like Davis, who's aligned herself with abortion rights.

Recent Pew Research Center analysis shows declining support for legal abortions throughout the nation over the last 20 years, particularly in southern states including Texas. In fact, those who believe abortions should be illegal in all cases has increased.

Public attitudes jibe with public policy increasing restrictions on abortions in 12 states after 22 weeks, particulary in certain regions, Pew reported. Notably, the growing opposition to abortion in the South compared to the supportive New England region made a significant ideological shift from an 18-point spread in 1995 to 35-points in 2013 - nearly double the opposition.

What are your thoughts on the Texas abortion law?

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