Texas judge blocks part of restrictive abortion regulations

A federal judge in Austin has ruled that a Texas law that passed last year can’t be enforced without clearer requirements that clinics in the state can meet a higher standard than the health and safety requirements used by the measure’s supporters.

In a 14-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ordered Texas to put “true emergency” rules in place to allow the Reproductive Health Technologies Project to enter the reproductive health industry with transparency. (The reproductive health nonprofit initially challenged the law.)

The court ordered the Department of State Health Services to “immediately, publicly and with notice” post emergency rules to limit abortions at clinics that don’t meet the measure’s “ambulatory surgical center” standards for clinics that provide abortion services, and for that hospitals have been opting out, due to the costs of the standards.

The rules in those cases would cut the number of abortion clinics in Texas by half, medical group says.

“Today’s preliminary injunction orders forced the state to make arrangements for what it knew was the ‘last remaining’ ambulatory surgical centers to be prepared to provide abortion services,” Jenny Liu, director of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, said in a statement Tuesday. “These are real live people on the line.”

According to the ruling, the rule would force “many of Texas’ abortion facilities to change their patient flow, equipment, training, standards, equipment maintenance and medical operation, all at little or no expense to themselves.”

The judge also found that the measure violated the First Amendment because the rules set up a “surgical center” where abortion clinics don’t exist.

Faced with the ruling, the state is required to post a notice for 72 hours in English and Spanish saying the regulations are scheduled to begin Monday. The state’s former counsel at the United States Attorney’s Office, Charles Devenyi, previously told The Washington Post the decision was “under review.”

The measure was spearheaded by several Republican state lawmakers, including state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, and state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford.

Republicans in Texas took power in the 2014 election, installing 10 new Republicans to statewide office as well as Gov. Greg Abbott, R. In that time, dozens of abortion clinics have closed because of regulations that may be unconstitutional. Texas is now home to 22 abortion clinics and some rural areas do not have any at all. The stricter regulations are part of a debate over what abortion should be.

This year, attorneys from the law’s proponents said they were “not surprised” by the decision and plan to appeal it. When the restrictions were passed last year, Planned Parenthood said in a statement: “Planned Parenthood is both proud and hopeful that we are on the cusp of the beginning of the end of Texas’s war on women.”

If upheld, the decision “provides assurance that women’s health care is always going to be the top priority in Texas,” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “We are confident that Judge Yeakel will see that regulations forcing the closing of clinics across the state would endanger women and lead to unplanned pregnancies and a moral decline.”

Said Texas Right to Life Director Chad Dunn: “Women who seek abortion must be protected against those who seek to discourage and demonize the procedure, making it more dangerous, expensive and often untenable for women to legally exercise their constitutional right to abortion.”

While abortion opponents argue that the law, because it “promotes health and safety for Texas women,” was needed, the judge said that it put onerous regulations on clinics that “already operate under a state of constant and severe financial stress.”

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