In July 2013 Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill that banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Under the pretense of concern for women’s health, it also established new state regulations requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and clinics to meet new “ambulatory surgical center” standards. These provisions are being disputed in court, but nearly half of the state’s 41 clinics have already been closed as a result.
On Oct. 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld Texas’ surgical-center provision, brushing aside plaintiffs’ argument that some 750,000 Texas women of reproductive age face hardship because they live more than 200 miles from an abortion provider who meets the law’s standards.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision Oct. 14, issued a stay on the surgery-center regulation and waived the hospital admitting privileges requirement for clinics in the border towns of El Paso and McAllen, allowing some facilities to reopen.
“The Whole Woman’s Health abortion clinic in McAllen is the only provider in the Rio Grande Valley,” Drew Stanley, social media manager at the clinic, said in a phone interview. “When it was closed, women had to drive 240 miles to San Antonio.
“Many workers from Mexico have visas to work in the valley, but if they try to drive to San Antonio, they’re stopped at an internal immigration checkpoint and turned back,” he said.
The Fifth Circuit will next hear arguments on Whole Women’s Health v. Lakey, another challenge to the law. Its decision is almost certain to be appealed to the Supreme Court.
When the anti-abortion law was under debate in the Texas state legislature last year, thousands of supporters of women’s rights turned out at the state Capitol in Austin. This year the main women’s rights groups are not building demonstrations, but focusing instead on getting out the vote for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, a state senator who filibustered to stall the anti-abortion bill’s passage. Davis told the Dallas Morning News Feb. 11 she supports the 20-week term limit.
About 100 assembled to protest the bill outside the Capitol Oct. 2, the day after the appeals court ruling. Two days later, some 15 women, organized by Southern Texans for Reproductive Justice, picketed outside the then-shuttered McAllen clinic.
Ten states now have 20-week term limits, 23 require abortion facilities to meet at least some surgical-center standards and nine require a physician with admitting privileges at a local hospital.
The 1973 Supreme Court ruling declared that states cannot interfere with a woman’s right to abortion until fetal viability, considered to be 24 to 28 weeks after pregnancy.
Some anti-woman forces are aiming at this “viability loophole” in the decision by promoting laws that define the fetus as a person from conception.
Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, in the majority opinion in the 1973 ruling, warned, “If this suggestion of personhood is established, [Roe’s] case, of course collapses.”
In an interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the Oct. 13 issue of the New Republic, Jeffrey Rosen asked about the impact of a possible overturn of Roe v. Wade. “It would be bad for non-affluent women,” Ginsburg replied.
Defend a woman’s right to choose abortion!
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