The Austin Chronicle

SCOTUS Blocks HB 2 – For Now

U.S. Supreme Court halts Texas abortion law in 5-4 stay

By Mary Tuma, July 3, 2015, News

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court helped Texas avert what was expected to be a health care disaster. In a 5-4 stay, SCOTUS granted plaintiffs of Whole Woman's Health v. Cole their request to halt the final provision of 2013 anti-abortion law House Bill 2 from being enacted as scheduled on July 1.

If SCOTUS had not stepped in, clinics would have been forced to comply with hospital-like building changes deemed costly, unnecessary, and potentially dangerous by major health organizations and reproductive rights advocacy groups. On June 9, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, shrugging off the significant barriers to access imposed by HB 2, ruled the ambulatory surgical center requirement constitutional and not an undue burden for women. The rule was expected to shutter at least 10 of the remaining 19 clinics in the state and leave nearly 1 million women more than 150 miles from the nearest provider. Before HB 2, the state was home to 41 abortion clinics.

The one-paragraph order states that the temporary block will take effect until the high court considers a request to review the full case – the earliest would be October, when the court comes back for their next term. Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito would have denied the application, the order reads.

Abortion providers have promised to appeal to the high court, and legal experts eye the Texas case as the most likely to reach SCOTUS, as the Chronicle reported last week ("Next Stop for HB 2 – The Supreme Court?" June 26). In a press call following the ruling, plaintiffs said they believe there is a "strong possibility" the high court will take up their case – while four justices are needed to approve a request, five allowed the block, signaling optimism for abortion care providers. The order also marks the second time the court has prevented HB 2 from taking effect; in October they issued similar intervention.

For Austinites, that means Austin Wom­en's Medical Center (Brookside) on I-35 South will continue to provide abortion care. The clinic said they are experiencing higher patient volumes and longer wait times for scheduling an appointment, but that they are still accepting patients. The other remaining local provider, Planned Parenthood South, is an ambulatory surgical center and would have been the sole surviving clinic if SCOTUS didn't stop the law.

The first three parts of the law have already taken effect: Physicians must secure admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where they perform the procedure; patients must adhere to outdated FDA protocol when ingesting abortion medication; and women are barred from abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

In the meantime, providers are breathing a sigh of relief while keeping the battle alive. The law "would have had a catastrophic impact on women and families across the state of Texas," said Amy Hagstrom Miller, head of Whole Wom­an's Health. "We're relieved that the high court has, once again, prevented anti-choice politicians from pushing safe and affordable abortion care entirely out of reach for the women in these communities. We are emboldened by the Court's decision, but know that this fight is far from over."

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