After shuttering last year in response to the state’s heightened abortion regulations, an embattled El Paso abortion provider is set to reopen on Tuesday.
Reproductive Services — one plaintiff in the ongoing legal challenge to the state’s restrictive 2013 abortion law — will resume providing abortions next week, according to the clinic's lawyers. But the reopening could be short-lived, with the U.S. Supreme Court expected to decide within weeks whether it will take up a lawsuit against the abortion legislation known as House Bill 2.
The legislation would require abortion facilities to meet the hospital-like standards of ambulatory surgical centers, including minimum sizes for rooms and doorways and pipelines for anesthesia. A separate provision, which has already gone into effect, requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic.
Reproductive Services stopped providing abortions in April 2014 and eventually shut its doors after the clinic’s doctor lost admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The closure came as a lawsuit brought against the state by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of several Texas abortion providers made its way through the courts.
In the lawsuit, the abortion providers challenged the ambulatory surgical center requirement statewide, and asked for a reprieve from the admitting privileges requirement for two clinics — for Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen and Reproductive Services. (The providers are now asking the Supreme Court to permanently block enforcement of both provisions.)
The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld the ASC requirement and ruled against exempting the El Paso clinic from the admitting privileges requirement. In that June ruling, the appellate judges wrote that women in the area did not face a “substantial obstacle” in obtaining an abortion because they could travel to New Mexico for the procedure.
Reproductive Services was able to move forward with reopening after the Supreme Court later in June sided with Texas abortion providers and temporarily blocked the 5th Circuit’s ruling, prohibiting the state from enforcing the ASC provision statewide and temporarily exempting Reproductive Services from the admitting privileges requirement.
This delayed the closure of about half of the state’s 19 abortion facilities open at the time.
Attorneys for the abortion providers have argued that the abortion restrictions contained in HB 2 are unconstitutional because they create an undue burden for Texas women who would have to travel more than 150 miles to the nearest abortion facility, and because they do not advance the state's interest in promoting health.
The handful of abortion facilities in Texas that currently meet the hospital-like standards are in major cities.
The Texas attorney general's office has argued that the abortion restrictions are constitutional, reasonable measures meant to improve women's health. Attorneys for the state have also said that the regulations would not create an undue burden for a majority of women seeking the procedure.
The Supreme Court could decline to take up the case and allow the lower court’s ruling to go into effect. That would lead to the second closure of Reproductive Services, which does not meet the ASC requirement, and leave no abortion providers in West Texas.
With that possibility looming over their heads, abortion advocates on Tuesday celebrated the reopening of the El Paso clinic.
“Reproductive Services reopening their doors means the women of El Paso and West Texas can once again access safe and legal reproductive health care options that they need and deserve,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We are proud to stand with them as they bravely fight against these unrelenting attacks on abortion care in Texas.