THREE YEARS ago, more than 70,000 women obtained abortions in Texas, most of them performed at the 46 legal clinics scattered around the state. Mishaps were exceedingly rare, and there was no evidence of any systematic lapse or abuse that endangered the health of women who sought the procedure.
Nonetheless, under the pretext of protecting women’s health, activists and lawmakers who drove through one of the nation’s most draconian antiabortion laws have now achieved a stunning victory in Texas. A federal appeals court cleared the way last week for the law to take effect; immediately, most of the state’s surviving clinics were forced to close down.
Instead of the 46 clinics that offered access to safe and legal abortions in 2011, Texas now has eight. The effect of the ruling is that nearly a million women of reproductive age in the Lone Star State now live more than 150 miles from an abortion provider.
Make no mistake: A disproportionate number of these women live in poor, rural and heavily minority parts of the state, especially the Rio Grande Valley. The Texas law, and the court’s decision, will force many of them to seek abortions, or abortion-inducing drugs, across the border in Mexico. That is likely to pose a far more severe threat to women’s health than a legal abortion at a Texas clinic would have. So much for the argument by antiabortion activists that they are mainly interested in women’s health.
The ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit is a cautionary tale for other states where abortion rights are under assault. In Virginia, where a law similar to the one in Texas seeks to impose hospital-style regulations on abortion clinics, the administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is pushing back.
Marissa Levine, the state health commissioner, has recommended a rewrite of regulations imposed by the previous, conservative administration in Richmond. Reasonably, she came out in favor of tighter rules for storing and dispensing drugs at abortion clinics and more stringent standards for medical testing, laboratory services, emergencies and anesthesia.
However, Ms. Levine, in accordance with most major groups representing doctors, saw no reason to force abortion clinics, whose patients stay a few hours, to adhere to rules designed for hospitals. Those rules — governing the width of corridors, the dimensions of janitors’ closets, the number of parking spaces, the types of sinks and the power of air ventilation systems — do nothing to enhance the safety of patients undergoing abortions. They are simply a blunt weapon wielded by antiabortion activists to force clinics to shut their doors.
Courts and judges may disagree about what constitutes an undue burden imposed by states on women seeking their constitutionally protected right to obtain an abortion. But there is little doubt that the ostensible rationale driving states’ restrictive laws on abortion clinics — the health of patients — is a sham. The transparent agenda behind those laws is to gut abortion rights that the Supreme Court extended in Roe v. Wade. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen.