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5th Circuit Won't Halt New Texas Abortion Restrictions

A federal appeals court on Friday rejected a request from Texas abortion providers to temporarily put on hold a ruling that could leave Texas with nine abortion facilities.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals building in New Orleans.

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

A federal appeals court on Friday rejected a request from Texas abortion providers to temporarily put on hold a ruling that could leave Texas with nine abortion facilities.

Abortion providers had asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to delay its own ruling upholding most provisions of House Bill 2 — including requiring nearly all of Texas’ abortion facilities that perform the procedure to meet hospital-like standards — while they take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Attorneys with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which brought the lawsuit, said they will now turn to the U.S. Supreme Court and ask it to delay the law's implementation while they pursue their appeal.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the center, said it was "imperative" that the Supreme Court intervene in the case.

“No woman should be forced to cross state lines or travel hundreds of miles for essential health care," Northup said. "And millions of Texas women cannot simply wait for months as this legal battle continues, with severely restricted options for safe and legal abortion services in the state."

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office is defending the abortion law in court, said the appellate court "rightly rejected" efforts to keep the abortion restrictions from taking effect.

 “No woman should be subjected to substandard levels of care, and this ruling means abortion clinics and doctors must meet safe, common-sense standards if they choose to operate their businesses in Texas,” Paxton said.

In an opinion issued June 9, a three-judge panel of the appellate court ruled that the state's requirement that abortion clinics meet ambulatory surgical center standards — which include minimum sizes for rooms and doorways, pipelines for anesthesia and other infrastructure — was constitutional because it did not impose an undue burden on a "large fraction" of Texas women seeking abortions.

Only a handful of Texas abortion clinics — all in major metropolitan areas — meet those standards. As of last week, there were 19 abortion providers performing abortions in Texas. But the appellate court carved out an exception from most of the ambulatory surgical center standards for the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen.

Additionally, the appellate court granted one of the McAllen clinic’s doctors a reprieve 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.

Immediately after the three-judge panel upheld the strict abortion restrictions, abortions providers vowed to take the lawsuit to the Supreme Court. The next day, the abortion providers’ lawyers asked the appellate court to keep their ruling from going into effect on July 1 while they appealed to the high court.

The abortion providers argued that the Supreme Court is likely to take up the case and there is a “significant possibility” the high court could reverse the appellate court’s ruling.

In their petition, they pointed to the Supreme Court’s previous intervention in the abortion lawsuit. It temporarily put on hold the ASC provision in October after the appeals court ruled it could go into effect as the lawsuit made its way through the appeals process. 

The abortion providers also argued that allowing the ruling to go into effect will cause “irreparable harm” because clinics forced to close after the 5th Circuit’s ruling are less likely to reopen even if the Supreme Court rules in the abortion providers’ favor. The closure of about half of the state’s remaining clinics could also increase the health risks Texas women seeking abortions will face, including increases in illegal and unsafe methods of abortion, the providers argued.

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Health care Politics State government Abortion Texas Legislature