The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] on Thursday upheld [opinion, PDF] Texas abortion restrictions requiring physicians performing "surgical abortions" to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and certain compliance protocols relating to the administration of drugs inducing "medication abortions." Planned Parenthood [advocacy website] challenged the provisions on several grounds, primarily alleging that they violate physicians' substantive and procedural due process rights, and that both provisions are unconstitutionally vague. The appeals court found that the district court had gone too far in declaring the statute "facially invalid," saying that such a classification should apply only when there could be no possible constitutional application of the law. As to the substantive due process claim, the court held that the proper standard of review is whether the state has a "rational basis" to act, and does not place an "undue burden" on the right of a woman to end a pregnancy prior to viability. The court rejected Planned Parenthood's suggestion that the standard be bifurcated due to the fact that the admitting privileges provision protects the health of the mother not the fetus, saying that the distinction had no basis in any legal precedent. This decision has been praised [AP report] by conservatives and many anti-abortion activists, but pro-choice advocates have characterized it as a substantial step backward that has already forced many abortion providers in the state to close, and many fear that even more clinics will be forced to close when other provisions of the law begin to take effect later this year.
The final outcome of the challenge to the Texas abortion law is a matter of great importance to both sides of the abortion debate, and to the practical prospects [JURIST op-ed] of the procedure's continued availability within the state. The Fifth Circuit began hearing oral arguments in the case near the beginning of January, after the US Supreme Court upheld [JURIST reports] its order vacating the injunction on enforcement of the law that had been granted by the district court. The Fifth Circuit granted a motion staying the injunction in November, just days after the district court declared [JURIST reports] the law unconstitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood filed their lawsuit challenging the law in September, shortly after the bill was passed [JURIST reports] in July and signed into law by Texas Governor Rick Perry.