Hours after the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that had shuttered half the state’s abortion clinics, abortion providers on Monday said they are planning to reopen across the state, a process that could stretch months.
Meanwhile, antiabortion state legislators are gearing up to introduce new legislation aimed at restricting the procedure.
“This fight is not over,” said state Senator Charles Perry (R) in a statement, “next session we will revisit this issue to ensure both women and unborn children are protected.”
New clinics face a lengthy approval process that could extend well into next year. They will have to reapply for licenses. They’ll have to hire new staffers or poach those who found new work when the doors shut. They’ll have to restore old buildings or find new locations. They'll have to update the equipment.
“This sort of restoration isn’t going to happen overnight,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder of Whole Woman's Health, the national chain of clinics at the center of the case.
The Supreme Court’s 5 to 3 decision ruled unconstitutional a 2013 Texas law that required all abortion providers to meet ambulatory surgical standards and physicians to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Supporters of the regulations under House Bill 2 said they aimed to protect women’s health. Abortion advocates called the mandates unnecessary, expensive and an “undue burden” on women’s rights.
Abortion clinics struggled to meet the new requirements and, after the law passed, the number of clinics in Texas fell from 44 to 19. Women who wanted to terminate a pregnancy could get the procedure in only six cities, most in the state’s eastern swath: Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston and McAllen.
Hagstrom Miller said some women drove 300 miles to access an abortion provider.
In the court opinion, the justices said lawmakers couldn’t prove the rules actually protected women’s health. The move suggested restrictive abortion measures won’t stand unless policy designers prove they keep women from harm.
Hagstrom Miller said she plans to revitalize clinics that Whole Woman’s Health lost in Beaumont and Fort Worth. She also could raise money for new locations and centers.
The McAllen location for example, is the only abortion clinic in South Texas. The operation shoulders women from across the Rio Grande Valley and those who seek the procedure from bordering Mexico, where abortion is illegal in most states.
The lack of facilities, advocates say, led to 20-day waiting times that sometimes pushed patients past the legal time frame to have an abortion in Texas and caused them to travel to another state, said Bhavik Kumar, a Whole Women’s Health provider.
Inside the former recovery room of Whole Women’s Health’s shuttered Austin flagship clinic, abortion rights advocates celebrated Monday. The facility was one of the Texas clinics that closed after Texas lawmakers adopted the new requirements in 2013. Several others were slated to close had the Supreme Court ruled against the abortion provider group.
But their elation was mixed with apprehension of things to come in the Republican-based Texas legislature, which meets again in January.
Texas Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, opposed the legislation in the Texas House in 2013. At advocates’ press conference Monday, Howard said she and other Democrats were preparing for another fight.
“If some of my colleagues chose to continue their assault on the access that women have to this safe, legal, medical procedure,” Howard said, “then we know -- as we saw in 2013 -- that the public will show up, that the public will fight this, and we know after today’s Supreme Court decision that the courts are also on our side.”
Legislators who oppose abortion said they are preparing for a new phase of an old battle in Texas.
“I would expect an absolute onslaught of pro-life legislation in the next session,” said state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford. “I’ve never been this upset before, I mean just like truly upset,” he said of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
John Seago, legislative director of Texas Right to Life, which helped author HB2, said he and others against abortion are disappointed by Monday’s Supreme Court decision, but they won’t stop trying to curb access to the procedure and defending other laws. He expects more challenges to other abortion regulations in the state, including the 24-hour waiting period.
“There’s going to be a stronger need to defend the laws that have been enforced for awhile," he said.
During next year’s legislative session, the group will push to ban a type of surgical abortion called dilation and evacuation, which is used most often to terminate pregnancies after 12 weeks’ gestation. They say the method subjects the fetus to “dismemberment.” Lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Kansas have previously introduced bills to end the procedure.
On Monday, after the Supreme Court unveiled its ruling, employees at Planned Parenthood cheered. Dawn Laguens, executive vice president and chief experience officer of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the organization hopes to reopen clinics in Texas. The organization lost centers in Lubbock and Waco.
Planned Parenthood also might challenge regulations in Texas and other states that aren’t “medically necessary,” she said. That could include mandatory waiting periods, which extend up to 72 hours in the United States, and state-imposed viewings of ultrasound photos. More than 360 abortion restrictions, she said, have been passed nationwide in the last five years.
“Here is the opportunity for us to go state by state, legislature by legislature, restriction by restriction,” she said, “and try to get these hurtful laws repealed.”
Eva Ruth Moravec in Austin contributed to this report.
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