- Ruling was on section of Texas law requiring abortion clinics to adhere to hospital-level standards
- Legislators have said this would improve patient care and safety
- "The effects will be devastating," abortion rights group says
A federal appeals court ruling that upholds a key portion of a Texas law will effectively close the doors on all but a handful of abortion clinics in the state, abortion rights groups say.
The decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, on Thursday gave Texas the green light to move forward on the mandate requiring all abortion clinics in the state be "ambulatory surgical centers," regulated under the same standards as hospitals.
Lawmakers in the state's Republican-majority Legislature have said this would improve patient care and safety.
Abortion rights groups say the law is designed to make it nearly impossible to operate an abortion clinic in Texas.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene previously when other sections of the Texas law were challenged in court.
The Center for Reproductive Rights sued Texas in April on behalf of a coalition of abortion clinics. In August, a District Court judge ruled that the "ambulatory surgical centers" requirement was unconstitutional and imposed an injunction. Thursday's appeals court ruling lifted that injunction and allows H.B. 2 to go into effect immediately.
Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General's Office, said in a statement after the ruling, "This decision is a vindication of the careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women."
Abortion rights groups say the mandate will leave women of reproductive age in the state with minimal health care options.
"We are already seeing that Texans are suffering because of H.B. 2, and with the closure of all but eight abortion clinics in a state as large and populous as Texas, the effects will be devastating," said Heather Busby, executive director of the NARAL Pro-Choice America.
The decision, abortion rights activist say, would result in over 1 million Texas women having to travel a minimum of 300 miles round-trip to have an abortion. The ruling will leave the state with no abortion providers in the Rio Grande Valley or West Texas along the Texas-Mexico border.
The state law also bans abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy and tightens usage guidelines for "abortion-inducing drugs" such as RU-486. Another part of the law -- requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where an abortion is performed -- also is under review by a federal appeals court.
Critics contend the law, in addition to eliminating abortion across huge swaths of the state, will further deny access to many women in rural communities and will force women to seek dangerous "back-alley" abortions.
"It is gravely disappointing that the 5th Circuit has put ideology above the law," said Heather Busby, Pro-Choice Texas Executive Director in a statement.
"When the need for abortion stays the same, but there are fewer reputable providers available, it creates the space for illegal providers and unsafe self-abortion care," added Busby.
Gov. Rick Perry signed the bill into law last year.