Advocates Ask Full Fifth Circuit to Hear Texas Admitting Privileges Case

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Advocates Ask Full Fifth Circuit to Hear Texas Admitting Privileges Case

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Reproductive rights advocates filed a petition to have the entire panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit consider whether Texas' admitting privileges requirement is constitutional.

On Thursday, reproductive rights advocates—including the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America—filed a petition asking the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to reconsider the constitutionality of the portion of Texas’ HB 2 that requires abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

The filing represents the latest stage in a battle over Texas’ massive anti-abortion omnibus bill that has already made its way before the U.S. Supreme Court, albeit briefly. In October 2013, after a three-day trial, a federal district court struck down the requirement as unconstitutional. But following an emergency appeal by Attorney General Greg Abbott, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked that ruling and allowed the law to take effect. In March, the Fifth Circuit panel issued a final decision upholding the requirement. Thursday’s filing asks the full Fifth Circuit to reconsider that decision.

“We’re asking the court to acknowledge what is crystal clear—this law hurts women,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director for the ACLU in a statement. “Because of this law, women are being forced to choose between putting food on the table and traveling hundreds of miles to get the care they need. This law does absolutely nothing to further patient safety.”

Major medical organizations like the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose these kinds of targeted restrictions on abortion providers, because they do not improve patient safety but instead harm women by shutting down abortion providers throughout the state. Since the Fifth Circuit allowed the admitting privileges portion of HB 2 to go into effect, at least 19 abortion clinics in the state have closed, including the last abortion clinic between Houston and the Louisiana border. The economically depressed Rio Grande Valley also lost its last abortion clinic, leaving a 400-mile stretch of Texas without a reproductive health-care facility.

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“Thousands of Texas women are teetering on the brink of a pre-Roe reality, when the options for women seeking to end a pregnancy were illegal at best and deadly at worst,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “We look to the full court to enforce the Constitution, follow Supreme Court precedent, recognize the real life harms to the women of Texas, and block this law from being enforced.”

Texas is not the only state to advance hospital admitting privileges requirements as a way to try and force abortion clinics to close. Similar provisions have been blocked by courts in Alabama, Mississippi, and Wisconsin before they took effect.

A trial on the Alabama admitting privileges requirement will take place later this spring, while the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case challenging Mississippi’s admitting privileges requirement on April 28.