A federal judge blocked part of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2, late on Friday, ruling that its restrictions on Texas abortion providers—requiring them to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers—are unconstitutional.
Without the court’s injunction, HB 2 could have reduced the number of Texas abortion providers to eight.
“The act’s ambulatory surgical center requirement places an unconstitutional undue burden on women throughout Texas,” ruled Judge Lee Yeakel, who also determined that the portion of the law that requires abortion-providing doctors to obtain hospital admitting privileges is unconstitutional as it applies to doctors in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley; those doctors also brought claims against the state in a lawsuit filed this summer.
One abortion provider said that she had already begun the process of reopening her shuttered clinic in McAllen, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, following Yeakel’s ruling. Amy Hagstrom Miller of Whole Woman’s Health said her group is “trying to reopen McAllen within as early as 48 hours from now,” as abortion-providing doctors in the Valley no longer must obtain hospital admitting privileges in order to provide legal abortion care.
“The evidence has been stacking up against the state and against the politicians who so cynically passed these laws in the name of safety,” said Hagstrom Miller on a press call Friday evening. She said she was at her Fort Worth clinic—a licensed abortion clinic, but not an ambulatory surgical center—when they received the news that Yeakel had declared the ASC provision unconstitutional. Her staff, she said, “just let out a giant cheer.”
In his ruling, Yeakel questioned the credibility of witnesses for the State of Texas, which defended the law as constitutional and whose experts testified that HB 2’s ASC requirements were medically necessary. He also expressed dismay at the involvement of a North Carolina anti-choice activist, Vincent Rue, who assisted state experts in crafting their testimony.
The State of Texas immediately appealed Yeakel’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has overruled Yeakel in past rulings pertaining to HB 2. Until the Fifth Circuit stays Yeakel’s ruling, however, existing Texas abortion clinics may continue providing care without making hospital-like upgrades to their facilities.