Texas abortion clinics allowed to reopen after court intervention

US supreme court blocks earlier decision requiring clinics to meet tough conditions

Isabela Speedon, a medical assistant, puts clean sheets on an examining table at the Whole Woman’s Health Clinic in McAllen, Texas. The US supreme court on October 14th blocked a federal  ruling that had forced the closure of abortion clinics where doctors did not have admitting access at nearby hospitals, instead allowing them to remain open while appeals proceed. Photograph: Delcia Lopez/The New York Times

Isabela Speedon, a medical assistant, puts clean sheets on an examining table at the Whole Woman’s Health Clinic in McAllen, Texas. The US supreme court on October 14th blocked a federal ruling that had forced the closure of abortion clinics where doctors did not have admitting access at nearby hospitals, instead allowing them to remain open while appeals proceed. Photograph: Delcia Lopez/The New York Times

 

Thirteen abortion clinics in Texas have been allowed to reopen after the US supreme court blocked restrictions imposed by a state law that threatened to close most abortion providers in the second most populous American state.

The court froze the decision of a lower appeals court that required physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and forced the clinics to spend large sums of money upgrading their facilities to meet the hospital standards of an “ambulatory surgical centre”.

In August a federal judge struck down the law’s requirements that most clinics said they would be unable to meet. The judge called the law a “brutally effective system of abortion regulation”. On October 2nd a federal appeals court, the US court of appeals for the fifth circuit, blocked the lower court’s ruling, prompting clinic operators to appeal that ruling to the supreme court.

The short ruling by America’s highest court, running to just five sentences, did not come with any explanation on the reasoning, but appeared to be backed by six justices. Conservative-leaning judges Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito said they would have allowed the law to stand.

The court, which has permitted legal abortions since the landmark Roe v Wade case in 1973, has ruled only on whether the law’s new restrictions should be delayed pending a challenge against the law. A lower court is still weighing the constitutionality of the law. Still, the decision was hailed by abortion rights supporters in an interim step in the legal fight against the rules.

“Tomorrow 13 clinics across the state will be allowed to reopen and provide women with safe and legal abortion care in their own communities,” Nancy Northrup, president of the Centre for Reproductive Rights, said. “The fight against Texas’s sham abortion law is not over.”

The group had warned the court that the law’s restrictions would have meant that more than 900,000 Texan women of reproductive age, more than a sixth of all such women in the state, would have been 150 miles from a clinic.

The Texas law has been shrouded in controversy since it was introduced. Democratic state senator Wendy Davis became a national political figure after speaking for more than 10 hours without a break in a June 2013 filibuster at the state capitol in Austin in an attempt to stop the Bill from being passed.

The anti-abortion legislation was passed later last year and signed into law by Rick Perry, the Republican governor of Texas, a role Ms Davis is now running for against the GOP contender Greg Abbott.

“The court recognised that these deeply personal decisions should be made by a woman with the guidance of her family and her doctor,” she said.