Court ruling means Texas abortion clinics won't meet safety standards

New Orleans, La., Jun 11, 2015 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News) - Pro-life advocates welcomed a federal appellate court’s Tuesday decision upholding a Texas law that increased safety regulations for abortion clinics and abortionists.

“Texas women and their preborn children will no longer be subjected to the grotesque reality inside Texas abortion facilities,” Emily Horne, senior legislative associate with Texas Right to Life, said June 9.

Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, who defended the law against legal challenges, also praised the ruling.

“Abortion practitioners should have no right to operate their businesses from sub-standard facilities and with doctors who lack admitting privileges at a hospital,” he said.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the law to be applied across most of Texas. It recognized as legitimate the legislature’s stated purpose for the law. In the court’s words, the law aimed “to provide the highest quality of care to women seeking abortions and to protect the health and welfare of women seeking abortion.”

Because some abortion clinics cannot afford upgrades to meet the stronger safety standards, the law could mean that as many as 13 clinics will close. That would leave eight abortion providers in the state, the New York Times reports.

The law requires all abortion clinics to follow ambulatory surgical facility standards for their building, equipment, and staffing.

Some backers of the law cited the case of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who in 2013 was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter as a result of negligent practices. The grand jury report in the case said that surgical facility standards for Gosnell’s clinic, like wider hallways for paramedic access, could have saved the life of one young woman who died.

The federal appellate court largely upheld the 2013 Texas law’s requirement that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic. On this point the court allowed an exemption for a doctor who performs abortions in McAllen, Texas, on the grounds that in this case the requirement would create an unconstitutional burden on women seeking abortions there.

The same Texas law bans abortions after 20 weeks, on the ground that an unborn baby at that age can feel pain. This provision has not faced legal challenge.

In March 2014 a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned a lower federal court's decision that blocked provisions of the law. The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked parts of the Texas law in October 2014 pending the decision of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Abortion clinic owners and their lawyers said they would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court; they argue the regulations unnecessary and infringe on constitutionally protected rights.

Texas abortion clinics and doctors asked the 5th Circuit Appeals Court on Wednesday to stay its ruling, pending an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Nancy Northup, the president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the New York Times the law could “devastate access to reproductive health care.”