Pro-Choice Texas Will Not Back Down

Despite a disappointing ruling in the Fifth Circuit on Thursday, the pro-choice movement is only gearing up for battle.

Mike Stone/Reuters

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit gave a victory to anti-abortion advocates Thursday and as a result, pro-choice Texas is refusing to cave into Rick Perry and co.

Judge Edith H. Jones wrote in the three-judge panel ruling that the state law requiring all abortion providers to meet the standards of ambulatory surgery centers (ACS) did not cause an “undue burden on the life and health of a woman.”

The stipulation, which means a physician performing an abortion must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, will not take effect until September, but since the law was enacted, a third of Texas’ abortion clinics have shut down. There are currently 19 centers providing abortions for a population of 26 million.

Gretchen Borschelt, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center and director of state reproductive health policy, says the ruling was hardly shocking based on the circuit’s history. “The Fifth Circuit is a notoriously conservative circuit and had already indicated it was going to uphold the law,” she says.

Borschelt believes that the Fifth Circuit offered a “troubling analysis” of what constitutes undue burden on women.

“As tasked by the Supreme Court, you look at how the women who will be affected [by the law] will, in fact, be impacted,” she explains, regardless of whether a minority or majority of women comprise the affected group. However, since the Fifth Circuit is under the impression that "the majority of Texas women will not be affected," the court discounted the "undue burden" on the minority of women.

Another problematic aspect about the ruling was that unlike previous court decisions, the Fifth Circuit was “not interested in looking at the burden on low-income and/or rural women,” says Borschelt. She also noted that in contrast to courts that have analyzed similar abortion laws in Mississippi, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, the Fifth Circuit took state legislators' claims that the law was meant to protect the health of women at face value. “Courts in other cases have looked at that, and they find there is no truth to these claims about women’s health.”

Regardless of the ruling, however, the pro-choice movement in Texas is completely undeterred in their efforts to provide abortions access. Mara Posada, Planned Parenthood South Texas’ spokeswoman, said, “We were disappointed, but not entirely surprised by the ruling.” In fact, Planned Parenthood is moving ahead and adapting to cope with the more stringent regulations.

By the time the ACS regulation is set to take effect in September, Planned Parenthood is expected to open a new facility in San Antonio that will cater to women who will have to travel hundreds of miles to get an abortion. “Already in the Rio Grande valley or West Texas where there are no longer providers, women have to take time off of work, find means of travel, find care for their kids, to get an abortion,” she says.

While the new facility will alleviate some of the hurdles for those seeking abortion access, women of the most rural and southern regions will still face struggles, says Posada. “A women from McAllen is a 250-mile drive to san Antonio to get the healthcare she needs.”

The clinics have already begun to notice the ramifications of the new state abortion restrictions—and it’s not fewer abortions. “Anecdotally, our clinic supervisors see more women coming to see if they are still pregnant,” says Posada. “She may have taken some pills or some herbal medications. When we hear that, it’s a flag for us that she has already tried to interrupt her pregnancy in a way [that’s] not legally safe.”

Opening the new facility is meant to be a clear message to both anti-abortion advocates and, more importantly, to women in Texas: The pro-choice movement will not back down in the Lone Star State.

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“We are going to do what we need to do to be here for our patients,” says Posada. “Their safety and care is our highest priority. By making this commitment to continue providing service, we are still letting our patients know they can rely on us for what they need.”