- Abortion clinics ask Supreme Court to intervene
- Ruling last week was on section of law requiring clinics to adhere to hospital-level standards
- Legislators have said this would improve patient care and safety
- Abortion rights groups decry ruling, say it cuts off access
A group of Texas clinics that provide abortions are asking the U.S. Supreme Court for emergency action to keep their facilities open, in the face of state restrictions that went into effect last week.
A ruling by a federal appeals court earlier this month 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. Another challenged provision would force doctors performing abortions to first obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
Abortion rights groups said 13 reproductive health clinics were forced to immediately close Friday after the court ruling, leaving only a handful still operating.
The time-sensitive appeal was filed with Justice Antonin Scalia, who gave Texas officials until Thursday to respond in writing. Scalia would then presumably ask his other eight colleagues to weigh in before issuing an order on behalf of the court.
Any order would only have temporary effect, until more appeals can be filed on the larger questions of the Texas law's constitutionality. That process may take several months, at least, to resolve.
The Supreme Court refused to intervene previously when other sections of the Texas law were challenged in court.
Lawmakers in the state's Republican-majority Legislature have said the regulations would improve patient care and safety.
Abortion rights groups counter, saying the law is designed to make it nearly impossible to operate an abortion clinic in Texas.
The Center for Reproductive Rights had sued Texas this past spring, on behalf of a coalition of abortion clinics. In August, a federal judge ruled that the "ambulatory surgical centers" requirement was unconstitutional and imposed an injunction. Thursday's appeals court ruling lifted that injunction and allowed the measure to go into effect immediately.
Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office, said in a statement after that 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 counter the mandate will leave women of reproductive age in the state with minimal health care options, and called the appeals court decision "demonstrably wrong."
"Over 900,000 Texas women of reproductive age, more than a sixth of all such women in Texas, now reside more than 150 miles from the nearest Texas abortion provider, up from 86,000 prior to the enactment of the challenged act," said the clinics in their emergency application to the high court. "Women's ability to exercise their constitutional right to obtain an abortion will be lost, and their lives will be permanently and profoundly altered," by having those clinics remaining closed.
Supporters said before the bill was enacted, there were 41 facilities in Texas providing abortions.
H.B. 2 also bans abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy and tightens usage guidelines for "abortion-inducing drugs" such as RU-486.
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.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry signed the bill into law last year.
The high court case is Whole Woman's Health v. Lakey (14A365).