Texas abortion rights advocates breathed a huge sigh of relief yesterday. A key part of the state’s strict anti-abortion law –signed into law this summer-- was ruled unconstitutional Monday afternoon. The U.S. District Court in Austin blocked part of the law mandating that doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Those newly required privileges were the single reason nearly a third of all the places women go for abortion services in the state of Texas were set to close their doors when the law went into effect today.
Monday was also somewhat bitter sweet for those who were disappointed by the court’s ruling on a second provision in the bill. The court upheld part of the bill that severely restricted medical abortions, while providing doctors with more flexibility in administering those types of procedures.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Women’s Health, which operates several of the clinics being threatened by this law, spoke to Maddow Blog about how much difference a day makes:
TRMS: You were in the midst of planning to close several clinics tomorrow. What are you thinking now?
Amy Hagstrom Miller: I have been so freaked out since June that I am almost hesitant to be excited. It is a strange feeling. I was thinking that it is such a new emotion. I haven’t felt it since the filibuster. This kind of “we won”! I hope it is not as short lived as the filibuster was. It has been really intense around here today. On this morning’s call with Texas administrators a few of them were crying. And asking what they were supposed to say to the women already in the office and others calling on the phone asking if they would have their abortion tomorrow and if abortion is still legal in Texas. The administrators' grief wasn’t even about the potential loss of their own jobs, it was more for the care women would not be able to get any more. Our staff has been so upset by turning women away, of closing or not being able to do this work that they love. And even facing unemployment. The worry and grief has been palpable. But now we can stay open.
We are prepared to comply with the parts of HB2 that were not enjoined today. We still have to face the 20-week ban and now restrictions on medical abortions go into effect tomorrow. It is very palpable today about how personally the laws affect people. This week we have a judge that understands that the restrictions place an undue burden on women.
TRMS: This is slightly a split decision. The restrictions on medical abortions have been upheld constitutionally but were deemed an undue burden. Yes?
AHM: My understanding now is that we didn’t prove undue burden for medical abortions flat out, because women will still be able to access abortion. It has given us a loop hole for women for whom medicine abortion would be safer. Right now we are working with our physicians to figure out who qualifies for that exception. Recent scientific research [shows that] medical abortion has been proven equally if not safer than surgical abortion.
People want to be able to pass the pregnancy at home with their loved ones at a time that works for them. It is also more popular with some of our rural women and especially Latina women. So [this restriction on medical abortions] is going to disproportionally show up in different communities that we serve.
TRMS: Are you preparing for the state to appeal?
AHM: All I know so far is that they have applied for an emergency appeal, which we expected. I will never forget bursting into tears on the capitol rotunda at 2:30 in the morning when we found out that they had changed the clock and the filibuster had worked. It was short lived, but in the long run I think these victories are going to be really important for the state of Texas and women’s rights in general. In the short run if they reverse this ruling we are right back where we started.