9 Facts About Abortion Rights a Federal Judge Is Forcing Texas Republicans To Heed

You probably heard that a U.S. District Court in Texas blocked Republicans from implementing the latest stage of their anti-abortion crusade, which would close reproductive health centers in rural areas and the Rio Grande Valley on Monday. But you may not know how U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel’s ruling threw cold water—the law and the facts—on the anti-abortion side’s overheated rhetoric and arguments, which were led by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor.

Abbott, predictably, said he would appeal. But it’s worth looking at the actual decision, which is plainly written and describes the U.S. Supreme Court precedents protecting abortion, and then cites facts that both sides agreed about pregnancies in Texas.

“The expert’s testimony substantially contradicted each other and, predictably, reached opposite conclusions,” Yeakel wrote. “Such is the nature of expert testimony. Of more value to the law are the parties’ stipulated facts.”

What follows is the law—according to the U.S. Supreme Court—and those facts, showing why closing the state’s few remaining reproductive health clinics would be unconstitutional and would truly hurt women across the large state.

1. The U.S. Supreme Court has said no to harsh barriers. “A law is unconstitutional if it imposes an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion,” Yeakel wrote, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania v. Casey ruling. That precedent said, “A finding of an undue burden is a shorthand for the conclusion that a state regulation has the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.” 

Yeakel focused on two requirements of the Texas law slated to take effect Monday: that a physician performing or inducing an abortion must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles; and that clinic must meet the minimum state standard for an “ambulatory surgerical center.” (A coalition of reproductive health clinics sued the state, saying those thresholds would force clinics in El Paso and McAllen to close, and the surgery center requirement also threatened all women across Texas.) 

2. Texas would be left with seven or eight clinics. That would be the result if the “ambulatory surgical center requirement” took effect, Yeakel said. The “remaining abortion facilities will be located along the I-35 [interstate highway] and I-45 corridors; there will be one facility in Austin, two in Dallas, one in Ft. Worth, two in Houston, and either one or two in San Antonio.”

3. The anti-abortion law, HB2, creates a crisis. “The evidence introduced by the parties at trial reveals the breadth and effect of House Bill 2,” Yeakel wrote. “Texas contains nearly 280,000 square miles, is 10 percent larger than France, and is home to the second highest number of reproductive-age women in the United States. Such women account for approxinately 5.4 million of over 25 million Texas residents. In recent years, the numbers of abortions in Texas has stayed fairly consistent, at approximately 15-16 percent of the reported pregnancy rate, for a total number of approximately 60,000-72,000 legal abortions performed annually.”

4. The law has already shut half the state’s clinics. “Before the enactment of House Bill 2, there were more than 40 licensed abortion facilities providing abortion services throughout Texas,” he wrote. “That number dropped by almost half leading up to and in the wake of enforcement of the admitting privileges requirement that went into effect in late October 2013… If allowed to go into effect the act’s ambulatory-surgical-center requirement will further reduce the number of licensed abortion providers to, at most, eight.”

5. Texas has already left multitudes of women out in the cold. “The number of women of reproductive age living in a county more than 50 miles from a Texas abortion clinic has increased from approximately 800,000 to over 1.6 million,” Yeakel wrote, referring to the part of the law that required abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of a clinic, which took effect last fall. “Women living in a county more than 100 miles from a provider increased from approximately 400,000 to 1,000,000; women living in a county more than 150 miles from a provider increased from approximately 86,000 to 400,000; and the number of women living in a county more than 200 miles from a provider increased from approximately 10,000 to 290,000.”

6. The surgery center requirement would double those figures. “If not enjoined, the ambulatory-surgical-center requirement will further increase those numbers,” he wrote. “After September 1, 2014, approximately 2 million women will live further than 50 miles, 1.3 million further than 100 miles, 900,000 further than 150 miles, and 750,000 further than 200 miles.”

“Even presuming a wide margin of error in these calculations, the inference is straightforward,” Yeakel said, “the cumulative effect of clinic closures and the lessened geographic distribution of abortion services in the wake of the Act’s two major requirements is that a significant number of the reproductive-age female population of Texas will need to travel considerably further in order to exercise its right to a legal previability abortion.”

7. Renovating clinics could cost several million each. The judge also looked at how much it would reproductive health clinics to build surgery centers that would meet the state’s hospital standards. “If a clinic is able to make renovations to comply, those costs will undisputedly approach $1 million and will most likely exceed $1.5 million… The cost of acquiring land and constructing a newly compliant clinic will likely exceed $3 million… Existing clinics, unable to meet the financial burdens imposed by the new regulatory regime, will close as a result.”

8. The state’s claim that women will still get abortions isn’t true. Yeakel really came down hard on the state’s claim that Texas women seeking an abortion will find a way to get one. “At most, eight providers would have to handle the abortion demands of the entire state,” he wrote. “This would result in each facility serving between 7,500 and 10,000 patients per year. Accounting for the seasonal variations on pregnancy rates and a slightly unequal distribution of patients at each clinic, it is forseeable that over 1,200 women per month could be vying for counseling, appointments, and followup visits at some of these facilities. That the state suggests that these seven or eight providers could meet the demands of the entire state stretches credulity.”

9. Travel time and financial hardship are real issues. The ruling went on to affirm that low-income women, and women in rural areas also face hardships if they have to travel to a large city to get an abortion. “The Act’s two requirements erect a particularly high barrier for poor, rural, or disadvantaged women throughout Texas, regardless of the absolute distance they may have to travel to obtain an abortion,” Yeakel wrote. “A woman with means, the freedom and ability to travel, and the desire to obtain an abortion, will always be able to obtain one, in Texas or elsewhere. However, Roe’s [Roe v. Wade] essential holding guarantees to all women, not just those of means, the right to a previability abortion.”

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