The XX Factor

In Risky Move, Texas Abortion Providers Turn to the Supreme Court

Things are moving quickly on the abortion battle in Texas. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled on Thursday that Texas could start enforcing draconian new abortion restrictions while the battle over the restrictions plays out in court. On Monday morning, the abortion providers in question, with lawyers from Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, turned to the Supreme Court with an emergency application, asking for a temporary injunction against the law. If granted, this will allow clinics to keep providing services while various interests battle in court over the new Texas law requiring abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges, a medically unnecessary restriction that shut off abortion services at a confirmed nine clinics already.

It was a heartbreaking weekend for the clinics affected by the 5th Circuit’s decision. Clinic employees across the state had to spend Friday and Saturday calling patients who had abortions scheduled to tell them that their appointments were canceled. Many women were unaware that their access was even in question, so there was a lot of crying and, according to a Planned Parenthood representative who spoke to Al Jazeera, one woman even showed up for her appointment, only to be turned away in tears.

Another woman, Marni Evans, in the video above, agreed to talk to the Texas Tribune about her struggle to get a legal abortion after having her appointment canceled less than a day before she was supposed to have the procedure. She will try again in Texas but has booked a flight to Seattle in case that falls through. “If this isn’t an undue burden,” Janet Crepps, a lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Rights explained to reporters Monday, “then there really isn’t any protection for women in the state.” If the Supreme Court decides to grant the injunction, echoing an earlier decision from District Judge Lee Yeakel, then these clinics will be able to return to providing abortions.

All this legal wrangling is kind of a pregame to the real fight over whether the Texas law will end up as permanent legislation. If the Supreme Court eventually weighs in on the law itself, there’s a chance they could uphold it, creating a new era where anti-choice states simply pass a series of medically unnecessary regulations until they’ve squeezed legal abortion out of existence. If the court rules in favor of the injunction, that would suggest that Texas lawmakers have gone too far. If they let Texas start enforcing the law, that may be a signal they’re open to making it easier for states to pass anti-abortion legislation. And other states are definitely paying attention.

To eventually allow the Texas law to stand, the Supreme Court would have to ignore its own precedent in 1992, when the justices clearly decided that states cannot put “substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.” Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, explained further, saying that the pro-choice groups hope “the Supreme Court will straighten out that they never meant” for states to interpret that as “just free range on any kind of bogus restriction.” It’s very hard to deny that the new law presents a substantial burden when women are getting their abortion appointments canceled.

There’s another reason to be optimistic. Monday morning, anti-choicers pushing the “regulate abortion out of existence” agenda received a major blow from the Supreme Court. SCOTUS changed its mind and decided not to consider a lower court ruling that found the state of Oklahoma’s ban on medication abortions to be unconstitutional. As with Texas, Oklahoma’s law is a transparent attempt to ban abortion on the thin pretext of passing a health regulation. While this is definitely not a pro-choice court, it may prove true that their unwillingness to overturn previous rulings will help the pro-choice movement to win in the end.