Appeals court to hear arguments on restrictive Texas abortion law

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 07, 2015 7:15 AM

By Jonathan Kaminsky

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Abortion rights advocates are set to ask a appeals court on Wednesday to declare unconstitutional a Texas law they say would shutter more than half the state's remaining abortion clinics.

A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans will also hear from lawyers for Texas arguing in favor of a requirement that the state's abortion clinics have certain hospital-like settings for surgeries.

All three judges on the panel were appointed by former Republican President George W. Bush. Abortion rights advocates are bracing for what they believe is a likely defeat before they file a challenge to the Supreme Court.

The "ambulatory surgical center requirement" was to have taken effect on Sept. 1. Under the measure, clinics would have to meet a set of building standards ranging from widening halls to having facilities for certain surgeries, even when an abortion is medically induced.

Texas argues its rules would reduce complications and improve patient care, while opponents say they would force many clinics into costly and needless renovations aimed at driving them out of business.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, also a Bush appointee, struck down the provision, ruling in August that "the ambulatory-surgical center requirement was intended to close existing licensed abortion clinics."

Before Texas passed abortion restrictions in 2013, there were 40 licensed abortion facilities in the state. That number has since dropped by about half, with advocates saying that number would have been reduced to eight, at most, if the ambulatory surgical center requirement had taken effect.

The Texas law also includes a provision requiring abortion practitioners to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of the clinic.

Yeakel lifted the restrictions on admitting privileges in two regions, McAllen and El Paso, saying they were forcing women in those areas to travel hundreds of miles for an abortion.

The 5th Circuit said on Oct. 2 that Texas could begin enforcing both requirements. Days later, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a request filed by abortion rights groups that allowed Yeakel's decision to remain in effect, sending the case back to the 5th Circuit.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder of Whole Woman's Health, a plaintiff in the suit, said she anticipated an unfavorable ruling but expected plaintiffs to ask the Supreme Court to block it.

(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky; Editing by Peter Cooney)