The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday allowed Texas to begin enforcing tough new abortion restrictions that will effectively close all but eight abortion facilities in the nation's second-largest state. Unless the Supreme Court steps in, the law is poised to have the most devastating impact on abortion access of any such restriction across the country. Under the law's force, which will close 13 clinics, one out of six Texan women seeking an abortion will now live more than 150 miles from the nearest clinic. A lower court judge said that was unconstitutional, because it "would operate for a significant number of women in Texas just as drastically as a complete ban on abortion." But the three-judge panel in New Orleans said the law would not impose an "undue burden," staying the district court decision as the state appeals.
George W. Bush appointee Judge Jennifer Elrod, writing for the Fifth Circuit, wrote that the district court judge had overreached because "in our circuit, we do not balance the wisdom or effectiveness of a law against the burdens the law imposes." She conceded, "We do not doubt that women in poverty face greater difficulties." But Elrod argued the court was required to find that a "large fraction" of women would be affected by the law, even as she noted that the number of affected women in rural Texas was 900,000. In a partial dissent, Obama appointee Stephen A. Higginson pointed out that the existing clinics would now have to "increase by at least fourfold the number of abortions they perform annually."