Washington D.C., Jun 30, 2015 / 13:03 pm
On Monday afternoon the Supreme Court of the United States temporarily halted Texas' regulations on abortion clinics, which were upheld by an appellate court earlier in the month.
By a 5-4 margin, the justices on June 29 blocked the law from going into effect until it is asked to hear the case; and if the court consents to hear the case, until it issues its decision.
The 2013 law increased safety regulations for abortion clinics and physicians who perform abortions, requiring all abortion clinics in the state to follow surgical facility standards for their building, equipment, and staffing. Physicians at the clinics must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, and a 24-hour hotline for patients experiencing post-abortive complications.
On June 9, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the law to be applied across most of Texas. It recognized as legitimate the legislature's stated purpose for the law. In the court's words, the law aimed "to provide the highest quality of care to women seeking abortions and to protect the health and welfare of women seeking abortion."
The appeals court did grant one exemption to the requirement that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, in the case of a doctor who performs abortions in McAllen, Texas, on the grounds that in this case the requirement would create an unconstitutional burden on women seeking abortions there.
The appellate court's ruling would have had the law go into effect July 1.
The Supreme Court justices granted a stay on the appellate court's ruling, pending a "timely filing" of a writ of certiorari, which asks the Supreme Court to hear the case. If the request is denied, the stay will terminate automatically and the law will take effect. If the request is granted, then the stay will continue until the court issues a judgement.
The five justices who voted for a stay were Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonya Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. The four justices who would deny the stay were John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.
Some backers of the law cited the case of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who in 2013 was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter as a result of negligent practices. The grand jury report in the case said that surgical facility standards for Gosnell's clinic, like wider hallways for paramedic access, could have saved the life of one young woman who died.
Because some abortion clinics cannot afford upgrades to meet the stronger safety standards, the law could mean that as many as 13 clinics will close. That would leave eight abortion providers in the state, the New York Times reports.