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Abortion Clinics Reopen in Texas While Controversial Restrictions Examined
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Abortion Clinics Reopen in Texas While Controversial Restrictions Examined

Summary: On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that a Texas law that shut down most of the state’s abortion clinics would be stayed, allowing several clinics to reopen. However, many clinics struggle to reopen due to employment and financial issues.

The New York Times reports that on Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that blocked a Texas law that previously forced nearly half of the state’s abortion clinics to close, severely limiting options for women who wanted or needed abortions.

  
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Last year, Texas passed two strict regulations that served as major roadblocks to the operation of abortion clinics. One law required doctors at all abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospitals. In many small towns and cities, doctors were refused hospital privileges, and thus were not allowed to perform abortions under the new requirement. This rule alone caused 21 of 41 clinics to close.

Next, another requirement was established that mandated abortion clinics must meet the building and staffing standards of ambulatory care centers. A federal appeals court allowed this provision to remain in place, which meant that all abortion clinics except 8 in the state of Texas had to close.

Ultimately, this meant that one out of six women in Texas lived at least 150 miles from the closest abortion facility. Those opposed to the laws argued that such a restriction was a major burden on Texan women, especially for poor minorities who live in South and West Texas. The state argued that the laws protected patients, but many medical experts retorted that the laws were in place to limit access to abortions.

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However, on Tuesday, the Supreme Court stayed the surgery-center requirement. The ruling allowed clinics in both El Paso and McAllen to continue its operations without the admitting privileges requirements. The Supreme Court addressed the issue of what constitutes an “undue burden” for a woman’s right to seek an abortion.

Now, clinics that had previously closed are cautiously optimistic about opening once again. It remains unclear how the Supreme Court might ultimately rule on the abortion issue, but the ruling did hint that the justices clearly understand the effect of such laws and that they “saw the potentially irrevocable damage if the clinics were forced to close,” Professor Caitlin E. Borgmann of CUNY School of Law in New York explained.

For the time being, abortion providers are protected from having to close their doors. Borgnmann added that the main issue is how many restrictions a state may place on access to abortions without completely banning abortions altogether. “How much travel is too much? How much do costs matter? These are questions the Supreme Court has never answered,” she said.

The day after the ruling, clinics began restocking supplies and attempting to locate past employees. Many hoped to see patients as early as Thursday. The Routh Street Women’s Clinic in Dallas, which was forced to stop providing abortion services two weeks ago, began scheduling appointments in light of the ruling.

The owner of the Routh Street Women’s Clinic, Virginia Braun, said that the clinic was dangerously close to closing for good as the bills piled up while it was unable to operate. In addition, several longtime employees had departed. Braun said, “We will take it one day at a time, but we’ve got appointments for tomorrow.”

Amy Hagstrom Miller is the president of Whole Woman’s Health, which runs several abortion clinics in Texas. She said that reopening the clinics is not simply a matter of opening the doors and turning on the lights. Employees must be rehired and supplies must be assembled. Therefore, “reopening the clinics is not as simple as it might seem.” The clinic in McAllen will see patients on Friday, but it is not clear as to whether facilities in Beaumont, Fort Worth, and Austin will reopen.

The undue burden standard was born with the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. That ruling held that a woman had the right to an abortion so long as the fetus was not yet viable. However, the court also held that a state could impose restrictions on abortions so long as it did not have “the purpose or effect of imposing an undue burden on women seeking an abortion.” The ruling, which has caused confusion since it was announced, states that a 24-hour waiting period is not an undue burden, but forcing a woman to notify her husband was.

Tuesday’s decision will provide roughly 15 clinics in Texas a period of a few months during which they may operate. The next chapter will begin as a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit hears arguments on the merits of the Texas law. Briefs are due from the suing clinics and the state no later than December 8.

After the appellate court renders its decision, the losing side may appeal to the Supreme Court to have the ruling overturned. The clinics could also appeal a Fifth Circuit decision that recently allowed the statewide enforcement of the admitting-privileges requirement.

Attorneys for the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York argued the appeals and are preparing to move forward in both cases. Varying definitions of an unconstitutional burden have resulted from the challenges to the law so far.

Judge Lee Yeakel of the United States District Court in Austin issued a ruling on August 29 that the surgery-center requirement was an undue burden since for some low-income and working women, the long travel times and other restrictions may serve as a “complete ban on abortion.” However, a panel of the Fifth Circuit overruled that decision two weeks ago and allowed the law to take effect while appeals were considered. The state’s position that clinics failed to prove a “large fraction” of Texas women would be adversely affected prevailed.

“Large fraction” is another term from the Casey decision that attorneys and judges have disagreed on since 1992, according to Borgmann. Is it a fraction of Texas women who are old enough to bear children, or women in specific reasons without access to clinics? “You can never predict that the Supreme Court will provide clear guidance,” Borgmann said. However, appeals of the law “will present them with the opportunity.”

Photo credit: jacksonfreepress.com



 

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