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U.S. Supreme Court Puts Provision of Texas Abortion Law on Hold

A provision of the Texas abortion law that closed all but eight abortion facilities in the state almost two weeks ago was put on hold Tuesday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

A provision of the Texas abortion law that closed all but eight abortion facilities in the state almost two weeks ago was temporarily put on hold Tuesday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision comes a week after attorneys representing a coalition of abortion providers in the state asked the Supreme Court to reinstate a U.S. district court ruling that had blocked a key provision that requires abortion facilities to meet the same hospital-like standards as ambulatory surgical centers. Those include minimum sizes for rooms and doorways and having pipelines for anesthesia.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had overturned that ruling and allowed the provision to go into effect as the appeals process continues, shutting down most of the state’s facilities. The 5th Circuit is still weighing the constitutionality of the law.

In Tuesday's ruling, the Supreme Court also overturned the provision of the abortion law, which is known as House Bill 2, that requires doctors who perform abortions to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles for two facilities: Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen and Reproductive Services in El Paso.

Representatives for the abortion providers were quick to celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision as they await the appeals court's ruling on the law.

“The U.S. Supreme Court gave Texas women a tremendous victory today,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the abortion providers in the case. “Tomorrow, thirteen clinics across the state will be allowed to reopen and provide women with safe and legal abortion care in their own communities.

Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general's office, said in a statement that the office "will continue to defend the law, just as we defend all state laws when they are challenged in court."

In a brief filed with the Supreme Court, state attorneys argued that abortion providers’ request to review the 5th Circuit’s decision was “unwarranted” because “abortion remains widely available in Texas — even after HB2’s provisions have taken full effect.”

State attorneys wrote that the majority of Texas women still live within “comfortable driving distance” or 150 miles of an abortion facility that meets HB 2 standards. For the “small portion” of those living further from a clinic, the state argued that the travel distance was “an inconvenience, but still a manageable one.”

In their application to the Supreme Court, the abortion providers argued that the enforcement of HB 2 had already had “a devastating impact on the availability of abortion services,” leaving only eight abortion facilities in the state and none south of San Antonio or west of Fort Worth.

“If the stay entered by the Fifth Circuit is not vacated, the clinics forced to remain closed during the appeals process will likely never reopen,” the request reads. “Further, women’s ability to exercise their constitutional right to obtain an abortion will be lost, and their lives will be permanently and profoundly altered.”

This story was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.   

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