UPDATE: Judge Blocks Parts Of Texas' Controversial Abortion Law
Update, 7:52 p.m. Monday: A federal judge has ruled that new abortion restrictions passed by the Texas Legislature are unconstitutional and should not take effect as planned on Tuesday. Texas officials immediately appealed the ruling, and the case could eventually head to the U.S. Supreme Court.
District Judge Lee Yeakel blocked one part of the restriction, while allowing another provision to stand.
Yeakel ruled that a state provision that requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility "places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus."
The state argues that it’s acting in defense of the fetus and the well-being of the mother. But abortion clinics would close, the judge's ruling stated. In the Rio Grande Valley, 24 counties would be left with no abortion provider.
The judge also ruled on medication used during abortions – this is the more complicated part of the ruling.
The judge said that Texas’ requirements that women go to an abortion clinic on several occasions to receive medicine that ends a pregnancy might be cumbersome, but not an "undue burden." But the judge did say that a doctor may choose to allow a woman to take certain medication at a clinic and then take other medication at home – a so-called evidence-based protocol that’s been standard practice – as long as the doctor believes it preserves the woman’s health.
"The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that a state may not restrict access to abortions that are 'necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother,'" the judge wrote.
Yeakel issued his decision Monday afternoon following a three-day trial over whether the state can restrict when, where and how women obtain abortions in Texas. The proposed restrictions were among the toughest in the nation.
Lawyers for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers argued that the regulations did not protect women and would shut down a third of the abortion clinics in Texas.
The Texas attorney general's office argued that the law protects women and the life of the fetus. State officials have filed an emergency appeal to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The case could ultimately be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Courts in several states, including Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wisconsin, have blocked similar abortion laws.
The Texas lawsuit didn't challenge a ban on practically all abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy -- that still takes effect on Tuesday. And starting in the fall of 2014, all abortions will have to take place in surgical centers.
Reaction across Dallas-Fort Worth:
- Danielle Wells, with Planned Parenthood in North Texas, calls the decision a victory. She says the admitting privileges requirement would shut down all Texas abortion clinics west of Interstate 35, including one in Fort Worth. “We have three physicians that have admitting privileges in Dallas, but those hospitals are just over 30 miles away from our health center in Fort Worth," she said. To be precise, it's 31 miles away. Wells says the judge's ruling sends a clear message to state lawmakers. “Politicians have no place in a woman’s private medical decisions and that it’s unconstitutional to interfere," she said.
- Karen Garnett, executive director of the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of the Dallas Diocese, applauded the judge's ruling that abortion providers follow new stricter rules on administering the RU-486 abortion pill: “We’re grateful for that partial victory because that will protect women in Texas in a much better way than they have been cared for in the past," Garnett said.
- Heather Busby, with NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, says the RU-486 restriction requires two visits to a clinic. She says most doctors send a second pill home with the patient to take 24 hours after the first. That means “another day of lost work," she said. "Depending on how far she has to travel it could be anywhere up to 100 miles or more to get back to that clinic.”
- Outside the Fort Worth Planned Parenthood clinic, protestor Gary Garland, who opposes abortions, wants to see the entire Texas law upheld and enforced. "It’s the step in the direction of maybe closing down facilities like this Planned Parenthood, and that is a good thing because that would help reduce the number of abortions hoping to bring an end to it," Garland said.
Reaction from across Texas:
Since the ruling was issued, reaction has been pouring in:
- Texas Gov. Rick Perry said: "Today's decision will not stop our ongoing efforts to protect life and ensure the women of our state aren't exposed to any more of the abortion-mill horror stories that have made headlines recently. We will continue fighting to implement the laws passed by the duly-elected officials of our state, laws that reflect the will and values of Texans."
- NARAL Pro Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said: “We are pleased but not surprised by this development. It has been clear from day one that the laws advanced by Governor Perry and others are unconstitutional and put women at greater risk. We will continue to fight to ensure all parts of this law, and other laws restricting women's health care options, which are clearly unconstitutional are defeated."
- Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, said: “The court upheld part of the law and enjoined part of the law. The State has already appealed the court’s ruling. We appreciate the trial court’s attention in this matter. As everyone – including the trial court judge – has acknowledged, this is a matter that will ultimately be resolved by the appellate courts or the U.S. Supreme Court.”
- Texas Sen. Wendy Davis, who's running for governor after holding an 11-hour filibuster of the abortion bill over the summer, issued this statement: “Texas families are stronger and healthier when women across the state have access to quality healthcare. I’m not surprised by the judge’s ruling. As a mother, I would rather see our tax dollars spent on improving our kid’s schools rather than defending this law.”
Here is the ruling from Judge Lee Yeakel.
Learn More About The Ruling:
We've compiled this story using information from KERA reporters BJ Austin and Bill Zeeble, as well as KUT Radio in Austin, NPR, The Associated Press and the Texas Tribune.