The post-House Bill 2 world is decidedly bleak for women in need of legal abortion care, but today there's a bit of good news for those women: Planned Parenthood's South Austin surgical center is back in business.
That's the word from Sarah Wheat, vice president of community affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, which operates abortion and family-planning clinics from Dallas to Austin.
The South Austin clinic, one of the state's handful of surgical centers able to perform abortions up to 20 weeks, had to cease providing legal abortion care on Oct. 31, the day two provisions of the controversial HB 2 took effect, after an appeals court lifted a court order that had blocked their implementation.
At specific issue here is a provision that requires all doctors performing abortions to obtain hospital-admitting privileges within 30 miles of each clinic where they provide care.
The provision was ruled unconstitutional by federal district Judge Lee Yeakel on Oct. 28 – a day before the law had been set to take effect. Yeakel ruled that there was no rational basis for the law – it does nothing to improve maternal health and safety, nor does it "protect" fetal life, as the state has claimed – and it imposed an "undue burden" on women seeking abortion, he ruled after a three-day trial last month.
The state immediately appealed, however, arguing that its interests would be irreparably harmed should it be enjoined from enforcing the provision. Three days later, on Halloween, a three-judge panel of the archly-conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, allowing the law to take immediate effect.
And, indeed, the effect of that decision was immediate: hundreds of women in various stages of the process of accessing care at the South Austin facility were told they would not be able to access care there – as were many other wonmen at a dozen other clinics across the state – and many had to start the process all over, which includes mandatory state counseling, a 24-hour waiting period, and a mandated additional ultrasound examination. The mood at the South Austin clinic on Nov. 1 was decidedly sad: employees were worried about their patients' health and well-being; women were frustrated, angry, and confused, Wheat told us.
But today, the bright spot of news: As of today, the doctor at the South Austin Planned Parenthood facility has secured privileges and the clinic is ready and able to provide safe and legal care, Wheat said.
"We are so grateful that we can again provide safe and legal abortion care to women here in Austin," she said.
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