Texas abortion providers on Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up their legal challenge to two provisions of the state's strict abortion law.
After losing at the appellate level, a coalition of abortion providers is asking the high court for a reprieve from restrictions passed by the Texas Legislature in 2013. Those rules will require some abortion facilities to retrofit their clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, from minimum sizes for rooms and doorways to pipelines for anesthesia and other infrastructure. A separate provision, which has already gone into effect, requires doctors who perform the procedure to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic.
Originally, the abortion providers challenged the ambulatory surgical center provision while asking for an exemption from the admitting privileges for two clinics: Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen and Reproductive Services in El Paso. But the providers are now asking the Supreme Court to permanently block enforcement of both provisions.
The providers' request, which was expected, comes after the Supreme Court temporarily put that requirement on hold in June, delaying the closure of about half of the 19 abortion facilities open at the time in Texas.
Attorneys for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which brought the lawsuit against the state, have argued that the abortion restrictions contained in House Bill 2 are unconstitutional, creating an undue burden for Texas women who would have to travel more than 150 miles to the nearest abortion facility, and because they do not advance the state's interest in promoting health. The handful of abortion facilities in Texas that currently meet the hospital-like standards are in major cities.
The filing with the high court was not immediately available.
The Texas attorney general's office has argued that the abortion restrictions are constitutional, reasonable measures meant to improve women's health. Attorneys for the state have said that the regulations would not create an undue burden for a majority of women seeking the procedure.
"Our office will continue to defend HB 2 to protect the health and safety of women and ensure abortion clinics in Texas meet basic standards," attorney general spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer said Wednesday, adding that attorneys for the state will be filing a response.
The legal challenge to the state’s abortion law has been making its way through the courts for more than a year.
In 2014, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin struck down the provision mandating hospital-like standards just days before it was set to take effect.
The state immediately appealed to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. In June, a three-judge panel upheld most provisions of the state's abortion law, and then denied a request from abortion providers to delay its implementation while the providers appealed to the high court.
The appellate court had carved out an exception from most of the hospital-like standards for the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen and granted one of the McAllen clinic’s doctors relief from the admitting privileges requirement.
The abortion providers then turned to the Supreme Court, which voted 5-4 to put the 5th Circuit’s ruling on hold. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito voted against the delay.
The Supreme Court must still decide whether to take up the case. The court's next term begins in October.