This week, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld HB 2, the 2013 anti-abortion bill (famously filibustered by Wendy Davis) that threatens to close all but eight abortion clinics in the entire state. It’s a devastating setback for the millions of Texas women who need reproductive care, but may not live within close enough proximity to one of these facilities to easily access it.
State Senator Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) summarized the implications of the ruling well in a statement on Tuesday:
“This devastating ruling will reduce the number of abortion clinics in Texas from 40 to less than 10 and will put tremendous obstacles in the way of a woman’s constitutional right to a safe and legal health care procedure. This is already a very difficult personal decision for a woman. No woman should have to travel hundreds of miles to terminate a pregnancy. The provisions of this law will especially impact women living in rural areas and Latinas, who are twice as likely to face an unintended pregnancy and other health care barriers.
I am deeply disappointed by the Fifth Circuit Court decision to disregard a woman’s choice. This is not over. Legislators and reproductive health care advocates will continue to fight to undo the devastating effects of this legislation that will shut the doors to most abortion clinics in the state and eliminate an important health care option for many women.”
According to the judges on of the Fifth Circuit, the fact that 900,000 Texas women will now face travel of over 150 miles in order to reach the nearest abortion services does not constitute an undue burden.
What’s more, while the judges acknowledge that the law disproportionately affects poor women, they didn’t find that was reason enough for them to strike down the law:
We do not doubt that women in poverty face greater difficulties….The financial constraints that restrict an indigent woman’s ability to enjoy the full range of constitutionally protected freedom of choice are the product not of governmental restrictions on access to abortions, but rather of her indigency.’
The gist of their argument? It sucks that you’re poor, but that doesn’t mean we have a legal obligation to protect your right to a constitutionally-protected medical procedure.
So, in the wake of this decision, what’s next for HB 2, and for Texas women?
Right now, abortion providers are asking for the Fifth Circuit to stay its decision for now, while they prepare an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Fifth Circuit’s order is scheduled to go into effect on July 1, meaning that, if no stay is granted, within 3 weeks, Texas could go from having 41 to as few as 8 abortion clinics still open. According to the attorneys at the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) who requested the stay, it is necessary to put the ruling on hold in order to “avoid ‘irreparable harm’ to Texans and Texas providers while the case makes its way through the courts.”
If the Fifth Circuit does not grant the stay, CRR attorneys will take the request to the U.S. Supreme Court, in hopes that they will put a stop to the closures, at least temporarily. It’s something the Supreme Court has done before, and opponents of HB 2 are using that as a hopeful omen that their cause could ultimately prevail in the highest court in the land.
Ultimately, it appears that HB 2 is headed for the Supreme Court. That means that the fate of hundreds of thousands of Texas women’s reproductive health is in the hands of a court that has a history of siding with state legislatures over women and doctors. But the battle over HB 2 isn’t over yet, and until then, it’s up to us to keep up the fight.