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Abortion law that forced 16 Texas clinics to be shut down upheld

Published time: March 28, 2014 00:54
Reuters / Darrell Byers

Reuters / Darrell Byers

A US federal appeals court has upheld imposing new restrictions on Texas abortion doctors that, once enacted, will likely force many of the women’s health clinics in the second-most populated state in the US to shut down.

Last summer Texas’ Republican-controlled legislature passed a series of polarizing new abortion laws that divided the state’s voters along sharp ideological lines. Two of those laws – the new requirement forcing abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic, and a restriction on drug-induced abortions – were upheld Thursday by the New Orleans-based US 5th Circuit of Appeals.

This decision overturns a previous ruling from a lower court judge who determined that the rules violated the US Constitution and were not in place for any medical purpose. The appeals court, however, found that the law “on its face does not impose an undue burden on the life and health of a woman,” as quoted by the Associated Press.

Thursday’s ruling noted that only one tweak must be made to the law. Regarding doctors seeking admission privileges, it said the law “may not be enforced against abortion providers who timely applied for admitting privileges under the statute but are awaiting a response from the hospital.”

Many Texas lawmakers are opposed to abortion and last year made it one of approximately a dozen states to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks, despite a number of medical professionals asserting that a fetus’ brain is unable to feel pain until the 23 week mark. The debate made national headlines, with now-gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis filibustering in an attempt to slow the bill’s passage.

The laws were praised by Republicans, who claimed the law was passed to protect women’s health. Yet Democrats condemned the laws, saying they were yet another attempt to subvert Roe v. Wade and make it more difficult for pregnant women to find adequate care.

The provision requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, in particular, has already forced the closure of 16 clinics across the state, primarily in rural areas. Other abortion doctors who have been rejected at hospitals for non-medical reasons have also been affected.

In Thursday’s decision, the judges cited the case of disgraced abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of three murder charges and on hundreds of other counts relating to medical malpractice, illegal late-term abortion, and violating the 24-hour informed consent law.

The State’s witnesses also explained that admitting-privileges requirement was needed to maintain the standard of care within the abortion practice,” they wrote. “The specter of Dr. Kermit Gosnell informed the testimony of Dr. Love and Dr. Anderson, both of whom explained that the credentialing process entailed in the regulation reduces the risk that abortion patients will be subjected to woefully inadequate treatment.”

Many aspects of the new law that went unchallenged in this suit, such as a stipulation forcing all procedures to occur in a surgical facility, will not be enacted until September.

Thursday’s decision is expected to be appealed again, a matter that could eventually appear before the US Supreme Court.