Appeals Court Approves Texas Abortion Restrictions

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state can require abortion clinics to meet costly ambulatory surgical center standards,

By Alexa Ura

In a blow to the state's abortion providers, federal appeals judges on Tuesday upheld a state law requiring nearly all Texas facilities that perform the procedure to meet hospital-like standards. 

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state can require abortion clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center standards, which include minimum sizes for rooms and doorways, pipelines for anesthesia and other infrastructure. Only a handful of Texas abortion clinics in the state — all in major metropolitan areas — meet those standards, which are costly to implement. 

“Once again, women across the state of Texas face the near total elimination of safe and legal options for ending a pregnancy, and the denial of their constitutional rights," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the lawsuit against 2013's House Bill 2.  

In the lawsuit brought against the state, the Center for Reproductive Rights, on behalf of several Texas abortion providers, also asked the court for a reprieve for two clinics from a separate provision of the law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic. 

One of those clinics, Reproductive Services in El Paso, has since closed. 

The three-judge panel ruled in the providers’ favor in regards to Whole Women's Health in McAllen, granting an exemption to the admitting privileges requirements. Since the McAllen clinic stopped performing abortions in late 2013 — and after the closure of a Corpus Christi clinic — women in the Rio Grande Valley must travel more than 200 miles to get an abortion, which the judges said was too far. 

But they left in a big caveat; that McAllen clinic is exempt only until there's another Texas abortion clinic closer to the Rio Grande Valley than San Antonio

The legal fight is likely to continue. Abortion providers could request that the full 15-member court hear the case or they could attempt to take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court. The 5th Circuit is considered one of the nation’s most conservative federal appellate courts.

Reporter Liz Crampton contributed to this story.