Nearly two-thirds of abortion clinics in Texas were forced to close immediately following a federal appeals court decision Thursday. A three-judge panel of the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state could enforce its law requiring abortion clinics to be built to the same stringent standards as hospitals, forcing the closures.
Texas has 5.4 million women of reproductive age, ranking second of US states. The federal appeals court’s ruling means that only eight clinics in Texas remain in operation—all of them in Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Dallas-Ft. Worth—while another 13 were shut down overnight. No abortion facilities will be open in south and west Texas, more than half the state’s land area.
Courts have ruled that the law can be stayed only if it presents a “substantial obstacle” to a “large fraction” of the population. About one in six Texas women will be affected by the draconian restrictions on reproductive health. However, the court declared “This is nowhere near a ‘large fraction.’”
The closures were prompted by the law’s new requirements that abortion clinics meet the same staffing, building and equipment regulations as surgical centers. Clinic defenders insisted the new standards were unnecessary and represented a veiled effort by conservatives to deny women the choice of aborting pregnancies.
Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which helped challenge the law in court, said in a statement that the “ruling has gutted Texas women’s constitutional rights and access to critical reproductive health care, and stands to make safe, legal abortion essentially disappear overnight.”
She added: “It is an endorsement of politicians’ disingenuous tactic of undermining women’s safety under the false pretext of protecting it, and of their unconstitutional intrusions into the personal, private decisions of every woman and family facing an unintended pregnancy.”
Opponents plan to continue fighting the law in court, either by petitioning the entire Fifth Circuit to review the ruling or asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
The Times’ Manny Fernandez wrote that the “panel’s decision was only temporary and left open the possibility that the clinics could reopen as the case proceeds.”