By J. David McSwane
The U.S. Supreme Court suspended the enforcement of strict standards on abortion clinics in Texas Monday, a move that buys time for abortion providers fighting against far-reaching restrictions that have already closed more than two dozen clinics.
The 2013 abortion law, known as House Bill 2, required clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers — such as wider hallways, new infrastructure and expensive medical equipment — and required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
Abortion rights advocates have argued those restrictions were onerous and placed an undue burden on women seeking abortions, particularly women who live in the Rio Grande Valley and West Texas, hundreds of miles from the nearest clinic that meets the standards of an ambulatory surgical center. Supporters of the law, including Gov. Greg Abbott, have said the restrictions ensure women’s safety.
The full implementation of the law, set for July 1 before the Supreme Court suspended it, would have closed all but eight clinics that already meet the hospital-like standards in Austin, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Fort Worth.
A ninth facility in McAllen, however, was granted an exception from the surgical center requirement by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which earlier this month upheld most of the abortion law.
If that particular clinic closed, it would place an undue burden on women in the Valley who would need to travel more than 200 miles to the nearest abortion clinic, the three-judge panel ruled.
The owners of several abortion clinics had asked the appeals court to temporarily halt its June 9 ruling. The appeals court rejected that request, prompting abortion rights attorneys to file an emergency petition to the Supreme Court to step in and halt implementation while the case is appealed.
In a 5-4 decision, the justices granted that request.
The nation’s highest court is the final stop for abortion rights advocates whose protracted legal challenge has seen victories in a federal district court in Austin, only to be reversed in large part by the more conservative federal appeals court in New Orleans.