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Supreme Court Reprieve Lets 10 Texas Abortion Clinics Stay Open For Now

Tuesday would have been the last day of operation for 10 Texas clinics that provide abortion. But on Monday the U.S. Supreme Court, in one of its final actions this session, said the clinics can remain open while clinic lawyers ask the Court for a full review of a strict abortion law. Two dozen states have passed regulations similar to the ones being fought over in Texas.

Two years ago, when Texas passed one of the toughest laws in the country regarding abortion, the number of clinics offering the procedure dropped from 41 to 19. Amy Hagstrom Miller, chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health, has already closed two clinics in Texas because of the law and was about to close two more.

“Honestly I just can’t stop smiling,” Hagstrom Miller said. “It’s been so much up and down … so much uncertainty for my team and the women that we serve.”

The Texas law says doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. But some hospitals are reluctant to grant those privileges because of religious reasons or because abortion is so controversial.

The law also requires that clinics meet the same standards as outpatient surgery centers. Those upgrades can cost $1 million or more.

“It’s an example of the rash of laws … that have taken a sneaky approach by enacting regulations that pretend to be about health and safety but are actually designed to close down clinics,” said Nancy Northrup, chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing clinics in their fight to overturn the Texas law.

Supporters of the law say every woman deserves good medical care whatever the procedure.

“While we hope that she would not be compelled to choose abortion, we hope that her life would of course not be at risk should she choose to do that,” said Emily Horne of Texas Right to Life. “Pro-life does not just mean care for the life of the unborn child, it’s care for the life of the woman undergoing the abortion as well.”

The law has had a drastic effect in Texas, the country’s second most populous state, leaving most of the remaining clinics in major cities.

There’s just one clinic left along the Mexican border and one in far west El Paso – they were among the nine about to shut down.

If they had closed, the women there faced roundtrips of 300 miles or more to get an abortion.

Hagstrom Miller says all these clinic rules and the doctor restrictions are a deliberate strategy waged by anti-abortion groups. “They’re going state by state by state,” she said. “They can’t make it illegal, so they’re basically making it completely inaccessible.”

Other states that have passed similar laws are also facing legal challenges.

Emily Horne, of Texas Right to Life, says her group would welcome a legal review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“With this case, issuing some more guidance on that could be very helpful for the pro-life movement in determining what courses to pursue, which laws they might pass in other states in the future.”

The clinics in Texas can stay open at least until the fall. If the court decides to take the case, it would hear arguments in its next term that starts in October.

This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes Houston Public Media, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

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