Since early 2011, state Republican officials have placed an enormous emphasis on restricting women’s reproductive rights, and have generally been quite successful. But proponents of abortion rights have had one refuge: the courts.
This was evident late Friday in Texas.
A federal judge in Austin, Tex., blocked a stringent new rule on Friday that would have forced more than half of the state’s remaining abortion clinics to close, the latest in a string of court decisions that have at least temporarily kept abortion clinics across the South from being shuttered.The Texas rule, requiring all abortion clinics to meet the building, equipment and staffing standards of hospital-style surgery centers, had been set to take effect on Monday. But in his opinion, Judge Lee Yeakel of the United States District Court in Austin said the mandate placed unjustified obstacles on women’s access to abortion without providing significant medical benefits.
In the ruling, available online here, the George W. Bush appointee said Texas’ rule “is unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on the right of women throughout Texas to seek a pre-viability abortion.”
The news out of the Lone Star State coincided with a similar ruling in Louisiana, where a federal judge blocked the state from enforcing a new anti-abortion measure on admitting privileges.
The law requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of their clinics. A lawsuit by the Center for Reproductive Rights claims that doctors have not had enough time to obtain privileges, and that the law likely would force Louisiana’s five clinics to close.[Judge John W. deGravelles] said the doctors’ risk of fines and losing licenses outweighed any injury to the state from keeping the status quo. He noted that the state health secretary said she would not enforce the law against doctors awaiting decisions from hospitals to which they have applied.
The judge, an Obama appointee, allowed the measure to take effect, but ruled that while the legal process continues, Louisiana cannot penalize those who break this law.
Both rulings come on the heels of related pro-choice victories in Alabama, North Dakota, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Arizona and Idaho.
The broader question, however, is about how long these victories will stand.
MSNBC’s Irin Carmon reported over the weekend on the fragility of the legal success stories.
Much depends now on the Fifth Circuit, where the three judges that heard the prior provision of Texas law shrugged off the burden on women, but where more recently three different judges allowed the last clinic in Mississippi to stay open under threat of a similar admitting privileges law, saying a state could not delegate constitutional rights to its neighbor. Indeed, Texas had made a similar argument to Mississippi, despite the fact that most of its neighbors, with the exception of New Mexico, were adopting similar laws to close clinics. […]The decision in Louisiana is a more provisional one, hinging on a technicality, since that state gave clinics only eighty-one days to comply with the law and hospitals have no obligation to reply within that timeframe.
Watch this space.