Court Rejects Texas' Appeal to Uphold Safety Standards at Abortion Clinics

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott speaks during an anti-abortion rally at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, July 8, 2013. |

An appeals court has rejected Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's effort to allow for the enforcement of a key provision of the state's recently passed abortion law.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declined Abbott's emergency appeal, which was filed on Sunday, in a three-page order released Tuesday evening.

Tuesday's decline of the appeal stemmed from Abbott's tardiness in filing the motion, which the court said hindered the process.

"[Abbott] waited until 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 31 to file the stay motion; a corrected version was sent at 12:08 a.m. Monday, Sept. 1," decided the Fifth Circuit.

Texas capitol
Pro-life and pro-abortion supporters stand in line inside the capitol rotunda waiting for a seat in the gallery above the House chamber to watch the debate on House Bill 2 that passed by a vote of 98-49 Tuesday evening in Austin, Texas, June 9, 2013. |

"This did not allow time for a response, or for the court adequately to consider the motion, before the scheduled effective date, though the appellants claim irreparable harm from the statute's not being enforced."

Texas' attorney general had filed an appeal against a district court decision ruling that the state law putting abortion clinics on the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers is wrong.

Abbott filed the appeal Sunday in the hopes of having House Bill 2's provision on surgical center standards be enforced by Sept. 1, which is when the law is supposed to take effect.

"In holding these provisions unconstitutional, the district court failed even to mention (much less follow) precedent from the Supreme Court and this court," read the emergency motion.

"Allowing this judgment to remain in effect pending appeal would not only perpetuate legal error — it would give effect, even if only for a short time, to a lower court's decision to ignore the precedent of this court and the Supreme Court."

In July 2013, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law House Bill 2, which increased standards for abortion clinics across the Lone Star State.

Proponents of the bill argued that the new regulations would make the abortion procedure safer; opponents argued that it was a backdoor way to close down Texas' abortion clinics.

Requirements in HB2 includes mandating that abortionists obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facilities where they work so they can accompany their patients to the nearest hospital in cases of emergency.

Immediately after Perry signed the law, various pro-choice groups sued to have it struck down. The legal battle made it up to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled in a five to four decision in November to not block the implementation of the law.

By May, 20 abortion clinics in Texas had closed, with the 20th shutting its doors after the abortionist was unable to obtain hospital admitting privileges.

Last week, District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled against the part of the law calling for clinics to be put under ambulatory surgical center standards.

In his 21-page ruling, Yeakel argued that such standards, including widening doorways to enable paramedics to bring stretchers into the clinic, is too costly for abortion clinic owners and therefore, "imposes an undue burden on women seeking an abortion."

"The court concludes that the act's [House Bill 2] ambulatory surgical center requirement, combined with the already-in-effect admitting privileges requirement, creates a brutally effective system of abortion regulation that reduces accesses to abortion clinics, thereby creating a statewide burden for a substantial number of Texas women," wrote Yeakel.

Yeakel's decision blocking the enforcement of that particular portion of the bill, which was originally scheduled to take effect on Monday, will stand pending appeal.

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