Protesters rally in the rotunda of the State Capitol as the state Senate meets to consider legislation restricting abortion rights in Austin, July 12, 2013.
Mike Stone/Reuters

Court delivers setback to reproductive rights in Texas

When Republican policymakers in Texas approved sweeping new restrictions on women’s reproductive rights in the state, including a measure to close most of the state’s clinics, abortion-rights supporters were optimistic that they’d prevail in the courts.
That’s proving to be far more difficult than expected.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday signed off on Texas’ restrictions in a unanimous ruling, written by three Republican-appointed judges. My msnbc colleague Irin Carmon highlighted the key part of the case:
The Supreme Court has held that laws restricting access to abortion can’t put an “undue burden” or have the purpose of putting a “substantial obstacle” in the path of a woman seeking an abortion. But in a decision written by Judge Edith Jones and signed onto by Judges Jennifer Elrod and Catharina Haynes, the Fifth Circuit argued that Texas’s law wasn’t harsh enough to meet that standard.
Despite the fact that the admitting privileges requirement has been rejected as medically unnecessary by the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Fifth Circuit opinion accepted the state of Texas’s reasoning at face value – that it was intended to protect women’s health, not end access to abortion.
Specifically, the judges argued that because “it takes less than three hours on Texas highways” for women in the Rio Grande Valley to travel to a clinic, they’ll still have “reasonable access.”
That many of the women do not have cars and/or the financial resources for a six-hour round trip, spanning several hundred miles, was apparently deemed unimportant.
The same ruling also upheld the provision on admitting privileges and restrictions on abortions induced by medication.
Yesterday’s ruling, however, probably won’t be the final word on the subject.
In December, the 7th Circuit struck down a Wisconsin law on admitting privileges, which as Irin noted, makes it that much more likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the matter in the near future.
Their decision came to the opposite conclusion from the Seventh Circuit on a similar law in Wisconsin requiring that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a local hospital. […]
All this makes it even more likely the Supreme Court will weigh in, as it already signaled it would when a majority of Justices refused to block the same law from taking effect. In his dissent from that order, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that “the underlying legal question – whether the new Texas statute is constitutional – is a difficult question. It is a question, I believe, that at least four members of this Court will wish to consider irrespective of the Fifth Circuit’s ultimate decision.”
It’s been a while since there was a major showdown at the high court over abortion rights. It appears the stage is now set for a new round in the broader fight.
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