Supreme Court Halts Texas Abortion Law

Supreme Court Halts Texas Abortion Law
Photo by Francisco Montes

The remaining abortion clinics in Texas won't have to meet strict guidelines of the state's abortion law yet. On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court granted an emergency stay while they consider hearing an appeal on a decision from the Fifth Circuit that would have required Texas abortion clinics to meet strict new standards mandated by the state's abortion law, House Bill 2, or close.

The vote was 5-4 with the usual suspects — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — voting against the stay. 

The controversial Texas abortion law has faced fierce opposition from the moment it hit the state legislature in 2013 — former state Sen. Wendy Davis became a political superstar for her filibuster against the bill — where it was ultimately passed as House Bill 2 in a special session called by former-Gov. Rick Perry. Since then, state officials keen on implementing the law and pro-choice proponents just as eager to keep that from happening have been duking it out in the court system. 

A lawsuit was filed in September 2013 by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of more than a dozen women's health care providers. In October 2013, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled against a portion of the law in October but the Fifth Circuit allowed the law to be enacted while the decision went through an expedited appeal process (per the request of then-State Attorney General and current Govenor Greg Abbott.) From there, the state argued before the Fifth Circuit that the parts of the law requiring abortion clinics to spend tons of money upgrading to become "ambulatory surgical centers" and requiring doctors to gain admitting privileges to a nearby hospital, were not intended to close most of the abortion clinics in the state, but merely a legislative effort to keep women safe (that reasoning is a stretch as we've previously noted. )

The Fifth ruled in favor of the law earlier this month, but abortion providers promptly declared they would take the case to the Supremes on an emergency basis to see if the justices would review the Fifth's ruling. Now with the decision to issue the emergency stay, secured with resident Supreme Court swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court hasn't actually agreed to hear the case, but the law can't go into effect until they decide one way or the other. The court could hear the case later this year, if the justices vote to take it on. 

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