Big Blow for Women’s Health in Texas

By Mike Garvey, Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project Intern

These days, it seems that victories for abortion access and rights are rare. The news frequently portrays stories about restriction, not expansion, of access. So, supporters of access received something of a win Monday, when a district court judge in Texas issued a permanent injunction on a particular provision – that doctors performing abortions must have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the site – of a restrictive new state abortion law. The ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought by, among others, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and a number of women’s health centers in Texas. The judge in this case ruled that the provision had nothing to do with safety and more to do with placing an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion. 

But Thursday, the Fifth Circuit of Appeals – following an emergency appeal by the state – overturned the ruling, allowing the law to go into effect while a legal case against it moves forward in court.

This isn't a small decision. It’s a disaster. Because the law was allowed to go into effect, according to the New York Times, as many as 13 of Texas’ 36 health centers that currently provide abortion services will be forced to stop providing them.

What the appeals court’s decision won’t decrease, however, is the number of women who decide that abortion is the right course of action for them. These are women who might live in areas those 13 clinics would ordinarily serve. They’re women who, because of this restrictive law, will be forced to travel long distances and potentially plan multi-day trips to access abortion services. They’re women who might not be able to afford to travel. They’re women who, having no feasible option, might decide to undergo an unsafe abortion. 

The appeals court itself found that the regulation might increase the cost of accessing a provider while simultaneously decreasing the number of providers. But because those are incidental effects of a regulation that serves a “valid purpose,” the regulation was allowed to stand.

The assertion that this provision is about women’s health is laughable. Texas is a huge state. Did its government not grasp that the admitting provisions requirement would make it close to impossible for poor and rural women to access abortion?

We know the answer - the effect of decreased access isn't incidental. This is a law signed by a governor whose stated goal is to wipe out abortion, period. It’s the intent of a state government that doesn't trust women to make decisions about their own lives, and values its own misguided judgment more than the people who actually provide abortion care. No, it’s not incidental. It’s patently intentional and leading us back to a pre-Roe world.

Mike Garvey is an MSW candidate at the University of Pennsylvania.