A FEDERAL judge in Texas has ruled that some of the state’s draconian new restrictions on abortion are unconstitutional and exposed the fiction that lawmakers in Austin were mainly interested in protecting women’s health. In fact, the new law, which was set to take effect Tuesday, was nothing more than a backdoor method of closing abortion clinics.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakal recognized that, finding that the law’s effect would include severing access to abortion clinics for many or most women. The judge also said the legislation would deprive abortion doctors of their right to provide what they regard as the best treatment for their patients.
The Texas measure, adopted this summer, attracted notoriety when Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis, who is running for governor, launched an 11-hour filibuster. Her effort was not successful in stopping the bill’s passage.
Judge Yeakal tried to do what Ms. Davis could not: halt the implementation of restrictions that would take away the right to choose from hundreds of thousands of women. Responding to an emergency appeal from the Texas attorney general, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Thursday reinstated most of the provisions Judge Yeakal deemed unconstitutional. About a dozen clinics will not be able to perform abortions beginning today.
The Texas bill is one of several around the country designed to decrease the availability of abortions. The intent — in North Carolina, Mississippi, Ohio, Virginia and elsewhere — is to use incremental pieces of legislation to roll back the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
The judiciary is a logical impediment to that strategy. In court, the Texas attorney general’s office argued that the law would protect women and the life of the fetus. It requires, among other things, that doctors who perform abortions at clinics have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. The measure would close as many as a third of the state’s 36 abortion clinics. That provision of the Texas law, Judge Yeakal wrote, “is without a rational basis and places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.”
No doubt this case will go to the Supreme Court. Still, Judge Yeakal laid down a marker for common sense and for women’s right to choose.