Republicans in control of state governments have been trying to restrict access to both abortion and contraception but on Friday a federal judge rule against new restrictions on abortions in Texas:
A federal judge in Austin, Tex., blocked a stringent new rule on Friday that would have forced more than half of the state’s remaining abortion clinics to close, the latest in a string of court decisions that have at least temporarily kept abortion clinics across the South from being shuttered.
The Texas rule, requiring all abortion clinics to meet the building, equipment and staffing standards of hospital-style surgery centers, had been set to take effect on Monday. But in his opinion, Judge Lee Yeakel of the United States District Court in Austin said the mandate placed unjustified obstacles on women’s access to abortion without providing significant medical benefits.
The rule “is unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on the right of women throughout Texas to seek a pre-viability abortion,” he wrote.
Think Progress has more on Republican efforts to restrict abortions using sham health laws:
One of the most significant innovations developed by lawyers and lawmakers who oppose abortion are sham health laws that, on their surface, appear intended to make abortions safer, but which have the practical effect of making abortions difficult or impossible to obtain. Texas’s House Bill 2 (HB2) is one of these laws. Last October, a provision of HB2 took effect that prohibited doctors from performing abortions unless they have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals. Judge Yeakel halted that provision shortly before it took effect, noting that “there is no rational relationship between improved patient outcomes and hospital admitting privileges.” The Fifth Circuit reinstated the law only a few days later.
On Monday, another provision of HB2 is supposed to take effect. This provision imposes rigid new architectural requirements on Texas abortion clinics, including “electrical, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, plumbing, and other physical plant requirements as well as staffing mandates, space utilization, minimum square footage, and parking design” requirements. Many clinics are physically incapable of complying with these requirements in their existing locations. For those clinics, “[t]he cost of acquiring land and constructing a new compliant clinic will likely exceed three million dollars.” The remaining clinics can expect to pay as much as 1.5 million dollars to bring their facilities into compliance with the law. According to Yeakel’s opinion, should this provision of the law take effect, “only seven facilities and a potential eighth will exist in Texas that will not be prevented . . . from performing abortions.”
Before HB2 became law, by contrast, there were 40 licensed abortion clinics in Texas.
The new architectural requirements require abortion clinics to meet the standards established for what are known as “ambulatory surgical centers” in the state of Texas. Yet, as Yeakel explains, there’s little good reason to treat abortion clinics this way. Many clinics, for example, do not perform surgical abortions at all, only medication abortions that use drugs to terminate a pregnancy. Yet the Texas law requires abortion clinics that perform no surgeries whatsoever to undertake expensive renovations that transform them into surgical facilities.
Even in clinics that do perform surgical abortions, women are more likely to experience higher health risks because HB2 forces clinics close to them to shut down then they are to gain some benefit from the new restrictions. “Higher health risks associated with increased delays in seeking early abortion care, risks associated with longer distance automotive travel on traffic-laden highways, and the act’s possible connection to observed increases in self-induced abortions almost certainly cancel out any potential health benefit associated with the requirement.”
The most remarkable portion of Yeakel’s opinion, however, may be the fact that he does not simply analyze the effect of Texas’s law. He also accuses the state of outright dishonesty. Responding to the state’s argument that some Texans can seek abortions in New Mexico if they are unable to obtain one in Texas thanks to HB2, Yeakel notes that this argument completely undermines any suggestion that these laws are supposed to protect women’s health:
If the State’s true purpose in enacting the ambulatory-surgical-center requirement is to protect the health and safety of Texas women who seek abortions, it is disingenuous and incompatible with that goal to argue that Texas women can seek abortion care in a state with lesser regulations. If, however, the State’s underlying purpose in enacting the requirement was to reduce or eliminate abortion in parts or all of Texas, the State’s position is perfectly congruent with such a goal.
Yeakel, in other words, calls a sham a sham. He recognizes, in the words of the Supreme Court, that the purpose HB2 is to “place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.” And he comes just one step from outright accusing the state of lying when it claims that the law was actually enacted to protect women’s health.