A federal judge has ruled that new abortion restrictions passed by the Texas Legislature are unconstitutional and will not take effect as scheduled today.
District Judge Lee Yeakel wrote Monday that the regulations violated the rights of abortion doctors to do what they think is best for their patients and would unreasonably restrict a woman’s access to abortion clinics.
Planned Parenthood and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit argued that requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital would force the closure of one-third of the Texas clinics. During the trial, officials for one chain of abortion clinics testified that they’ve tried to obtain admitting privileges for their doctors at 32 hospitals, but so far only 15 accepted applications and none have announced a decision. Many hospitals with religious affiliations will not allow abortion doctors to work there, while others fear protests if they provide privileges. Many have requirements that doctors live within a certain radius of the facility, or perform a minimum number of surgeries a year that must be performed in a hospital.
Danielle Wells, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said that its clinics would have still remained open to provide many other basic health services — including the clinic in Denton that provides basic health care, birth control and cancer screenings — had there been no ruling today.
“But there would have been terrible consequences,” Wells said, including the closure of the parts of its clinics that provided abortions. “There would have not been one provider in Fort Worth. No one west of Interstate 35 would be able to provide an abortion.”
Denton County Republican Party Chair Dianne Edmondson said she was disappointed in the ruling. A longtime advocate for restricting abortion access, she served for many years as the executive director for the Republican National Coalition for Life.
“This is an overwhelmingly sad decision,” Edmondson said.
She took issue with the argument that doctors were being restricted in their ability to provide care as they saw fit. The Texas law included exceptions for the life and health of the mother, and requiring that doctors who provide abortions also have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals was part of ensuring women had access to quality care if something goes wrong.
“I’m shocked that it would be found unconstitutional,” Edmondson said.
Immediately following the decision, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed an emergency appeal of the order to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans and added that he has “no doubt that this case is going all the way to the United States Supreme Court.”
Mississippi passed a similar law last year, which a federal judge also blocked pending a trial scheduled to begin in March. Mississippi’s attorney general asked the 5th Circuit to lift the temporary injunction so the law could be enforced, but the judges have left it in place signaling they believe there is a legitimate constitutional question.
Unlike the Mississippi case, the judge’s order is a final decision for Texas, setting the groundwork for the 5th Circuit to review the merits of the law, not just an injunction against it.
The proposed restrictions gained notoriety when state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, launched a nearly 13-hour filibuster against them in June. The filibuster forced Gov. Rick Perry to call a second special legislative session to pass the law.
In a statement, Davis said she wasn’t surprised by the judge’s ruling.
“Texas families are stronger and healthier when women across the state have access to quality healthcare,” Davis said. “As a mother, I would rather see our tax dollars spent on improving our kid’s schools than defending this law.”
In a statement, state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, said he was saddened by the decision.
“It is disturbing to know that the abortion industry is celebrating a so-called victory that actually reduces the standard of care for the women from whom they profit,” Estes said.
The law also bans abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy and beginning in October 2014 requires doctors to perform all abortions in surgical facilities.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.