The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday refused to reconsider a March ruling that allowed Texas to require physicians who perform abortions to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion facility.
The full court decided against taking up the case, letting stand the earlier ruling by a three-judge panel of the court that unanimously sided with the state on the admitting privileges provision and a requirement that doctors follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s protocol, rather than evidence-based protocol, for drug-induced abortions.
In a brief order filed on Thursday, the 12 judges of the 15-member conservative court who voted against reconsidering the case provided no explanation for their decision. In a 62-page dissent, Judge James L. Dennis wrote that the court’s decision to uphold the admitting privileges requirement “flouts” precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is now abortion providers’ last hope in overturning the admitting privileges requirement.
The abortion providers in the case, including four Planned Parenthood affiliates, Whole Woman’s Health and other independent abortion providers, had argued that the law left women in South Texas, the Panhandle and other areas of the state hundreds of miles away from the closest abortion facility, imposing an unconstitutional burden on their access to the procedure.
The three-judge panel that upheld the law ruled that the admitting privileges requirement was constitutional because the state's objective was to protect women's health, and that there wasn't enough evidence to suggest that the rules create an undue burden on the majority of Texas women seeking abortions.
This was abortion providers’ first legal challenge to the abortion law, also known as House Bill 2. It’s the second setback for them in the last week after the same court, which is based in New Orleans, handed the state a temporary victory last Thursday in a second case against HB 2, which challenged a separate requirement that clinics meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.
The providers and other opponents of the law admonished the court on Thursday for not reconsidering the case and vowed to continue fighting the law.
“Tragically, Texas has become a cautionary tale for the whole country,” Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “That’s why Planned Parenthood will stop at nothing to fight these dangerous restrictions on behalf of the women that rely on us.”
Representatives for the Texas attorney general’s office, which is defending the state in the case, did not immediately respond to request for comment.
After the implementation of HB 2, only eight abortion facilities in Texas remain open — down from about 40 clinics before the law went into effect.
Disclosure: Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2011. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.