Ambulatory Surgical Center Provision Ruled Unconstitutional

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Today, U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel blocked the state’s requirement that abortion facilities meet the requirements for Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASC). This provision of House Bill 2 was slated to go into effect on September 1st, and would have left the state with as few as seven abortion providers – approximately one per million women of reproductive age in Texas.

The ruling in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Lakey also addressed the admitting privileges provision as it applies to two specific clinics: one in the Rio Grande Valley and one in West Texas. Yeakel found that in these areas requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the facility untenable and unconstitutional.

Together, the court ruled, the ASC and admitting privileges “create an impermissible obstacle as applied to all women seeking a previability abortion.”

This ruling came at the last minute before the Ambulatory Surgical Centers provision was meant to go into effect, and most clinics across the state prepared to shut their doors. Not only would this provision have limited abortion access to major metropolitan areas, but it would also have taken away the “choice within a choice,” as RH Reality Check‘s Andrea Grimes pointed out this week.

The President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which was working on the case, released this statement following the ruling:

This trial and today’s decision have stripped away the pretexts of the politicians who passed this law and revealed their true intention to deny Texas women access to safe, legal abortion care.The court has made clear that women’s well-being is not advanced by laws attacking access to essential health care, and that rights protected by the U.S. Constitution may not be denied through laws that make them impossible to exercise.

Texas women still face serious threats to their rights, health, and ability to obtain safe, high-quality reproductive health care from reputable doctors in their communities. But at least for the moment, today’s victory is vital in preventing politicians’ scorched-earth assaults on women’s health care from causing even more harm than they already have.

State Senator Kirk Watson, a Democrat from Austin, also lauded Yeakel’s decision and it’s recognition of the underlying goals of House Bill 2 – which had nothing to do with women’s health:

House Bill 2 was not about protecting women’s health. The true agenda of the bill’s proponents was to reduce access to safe and legal abortion procedures by forcing clinics to close and imposing enormous burdens on women. Making it harder for women to access healthcare does not reduce the number of abortions. Rather, it reduces the number of safe, legal, affordable abortions and that harms women.I’m relieved that Judge Yeakel recognized that Texas women would shoulder an undue burden if the state requirements were allowed to stand. And I would hope we can now turn our attention to crafting policies that are constitutional and reduce the need for abortion, such as improved access to birth control and medically accurate sex education.

State Senator Sylvia Garcia of Houston also applauded the ruling in a statement:

Judge Yeakel’s decision is a victory for Texas women in the ongoing battle to protect their constitutional reproductive rights. This onerous and unnecessary requirement is another attempt by the anti-women’s health advocates to erode women’s access to reproductive health services, and would effectively force all but a handful of the state’s remaining clinics to close. Too many women across Texas are already suffering from the devastating effects of clinic closures due to other ill-conceived requirements in House Bill 2.

Texas Democratic Party’s Deputy Communication Director Lisa Paul celebrated the ruling as a step in the right direction for reproductive health services in Texas, saying:

Today’s decision is an important victory for women in Texas and across the country. This is a rejection of Mad Men era politics and policies that are designed to limit women’s choices and access.The Republicans who wrote and passed this law are wrong for Texas, and today’s decision reaffirms that it is time for a change in our state. Elections have consequences, and we can’t let the people who fought to restrict women’s rights in Texas with an unconstitutional law win in November.

Texas deserves leaders who trust a woman to make her own decisions. Leaders who stand up against this kind of legislation and stand up for women.  Leaders like Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte.

Davis, who famously filibustered the first iteration of the bill during the first special session, called the ruling a “victory” for women’s health:

Today’s decision is a victory for women’s health care. These decisions should only be made between a woman, her doctor and her God — not Austin politicians like Attorney General Greg Abbott, who would make abortion illegal even in cases of rape and incest.

This law, and the seemingly endless struggle to staunch the destruction it is wreaking on reproductive health in Texas, is the direct result of targeted efforts by Republican lawmakers to reduce access to safe, legal abortion care – but the law is having impacts that go far beyond that.

As Davis’ statement suggests, we must not forget the direct ties between this desperate struggle to keep facilities open and the elections in November. Republicans from the top of the ticket to the bottom of the ballot are of one mind on this issue, and that is what we are up against in November.

But for today, Yeakel’s ruling is a bright spot in an otherwise dark moment for reproductive healthcare in Texas, and that is certainly worth celebrating.

About Author

Genevieve Cato

Genevieve Cato is a feminist activist and a native Texan. While not writing for the Burnt Orange Report, she can be found working for State Rep. Mary Gonzalez under the pink dome, serving as a community member of the Communications Committee for the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, and drinking copious amounts of pretentious local craft beers.

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