A federal judge on Friday struck down a Texas law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, a move he said contradicted “the public safety interest’ that Texas purports to advocate.”
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that a 2011 state law placed a disproportionate burden on low-income women, prohibiting their ability to obtain abortions, and that the law unconstitutionally interferes with a woman’s right to make that decision.
“I also agree with the critics of this law that women who cannot travel for safety reasons, women with minor children or women that live within an immediate driving distance of the nearest hospital, cannot be forced to travel long distances, have to spend considerable travel time, or might even die while traveling to obtain the abortion they seek,” Yeakel wrote.
The judge’s ruling stems from a lawsuit filed against the state by several abortion providers, including New York University School of Medicine. The suit claims the law places a “substantial obstacle” in preventing women from obtaining an abortion.
Opponents of the law contend the law would cause more women to seek abortions in Texas, where women are already forced to travel long distances, often in inclement weather, and in overcrowded clinics. It also could delay the procedures, according to Planned Parenthood.
Opponents say the law forces women to undergo what amounts to a “crisis pregnancy” even though the state already allows “access to abortion up to the fetus’ viability,” before abortion is banned in Texas.
A spokesman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, said on Friday that Paxton’s office “believes in protecting women’s health and protecting Texas’ well-being,” but that the decision shouldn’t be characterized as a setback.
“We continue to believe this law is a commonsense measure intended to protect patients by ensuring health care providers are held to the same standards of care as other providers. The Court’s ruling rightly determined that the state has broad authority to implement these regulations so long as they do not impose an undue burden on women.”
The decision marks the second straight day that Yeakel has ruled in favor of abortion providers. The judge ruled that a related Texas law on admitting privileges – which he later overturned – did not infringe on the right to abortion.
The decisions come after Texas in June became the latest state to outlaw abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Opponents of the law in Texas have focused on the need for abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, while acknowledging that the argument is unlikely to survive a challenge.
The Supreme Court in its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 said states could not ban abortions before a fetus was viable, or at the point where it could survive outside the womb. After the high court’s abortion ruling, states were divided on whether to enact restrictions on abortion after viability.
Legislators in some states, however, have moved over the past 20 years to require that the baby, not its mother, decides whether or not to be born alive.
The procedure requires an early abortion provider to “determine” if a fetus is “born alive” by assessing the baby’s condition. The ruling, passed into law in 2013 by the Texas Legislature, noted the courts had already “struck down similar laws in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah as unduly burdensome to pregnant women.”
The Texas law that came under attack in Yeakel’s ruling on Friday required physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their abortion clinic. However, Yeakel’s ruling noted that a hospital may not transfer the patient to another facility within that 30 mile radius when the woman and child would “face a risk of death or serious bodily injury” because a nearby hospital has no admitting privileges.
The Texas Attorney General appealed Yeakel’s earlier decision on the admitting privileges law to the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans. Paxton’s office is also fighting a separate lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against another Texas abortion law that abortion providers argue unduly burdens women.
The ACLU isn’t the only organization to have success in challenging a 20-week abortion ban in Texas.
The Fifth Circuit in June blocked the Texas law on the admitting privileges provision and said a similar law passed that year would be “rational and constitutional.”
The ACLU says it has also been successful in similar cases elsewhere, including South Dakota, Indiana and Virginia.