America's abortion wars took a new turn tonight after a district judge in Texas overturned a key portion of a highly controversial new law passed by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature earlier this year that threatened severely to curtail the access of women in the state to doctors able to carry out terminations.
The new law, which would oblige doctors working in abortion clinics to obtain visiting privileges in a major hospital within a maximum of 30 miles, was to have taken effect on Tuesday. But in a ruling released tonight, Judge Lee Yeakel said that the regulations violated the right of professional providers to do what they think is best for their patients and would unreasonably restrict a woman’s access to abortion clinics in the Lone Star state.
With the case already being appealed by the state’s attorney general to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which is widely known for its mostly conservative leanings, it seems likely that it will ultimately end at up at the United States Supreme Court and thus become a defining point of battle between advocates and opponents of a woman’s right to choose in the US.
The law was approved by the Texas legislature after fierce debate earlier this year and signed by Governor Rick Perry but only after a state Democratic senator, Wendy Davis, made national and even international headlines trying to block it with a 24-hour-long filibuster on the floor of the upper house in Austin. Though the effort failed it catapulted Ms Davis to fame and she recently announced plans to run for Texas governor next year.
The ruling was a victory, at least for now, for Planned Parenthood, which brought the lawsuit saying that the visiting privileges provisions in it would have the effect of closing down about a third of all the abortion clinics in Texas. For example no hospital has granted such privileges to the lone doctor who flies to Lubbock in western Texas to offer abortion services meaning the clinic would most likely have to be shuttered for good.
“I don't see why local hospitals would give privileges to someone who’s not going to admit patients. I don’t see what the business and financial incentive would be,” commented Beth Shapiro, chairwoman of board of directors of Lubbock's Planned Parenthood Women's Health Centre. It’s "more work and not going to increase patient load.”
The state claims that the law was an attempt to protect women by ensuring that should anything go wrong at abortion clinics the doctors could swiftly transfer them to a nearby hospital. But Governor Perry noted that the ruling wouldn’t stop the state’s “ongoing efforts to protect life”, clearly implying that it was less about the health of women seeking abortions but their ability to do so in the first place.
A similar law passed by the Republican majority in Mississippi remains in limbo after a district judge in the state issued an injunction stopping it from coming into effect.