Attorneys for women's health clinics across Texas announced Monday that they have approached the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes of acquiring a stay on a ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals -- a move that essentially leaves the fate of Texas women, at least for now, solely in the hands of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood told reporters on Monday that it will be up to Justice Scalia to decide whether the Fifth Circuit's decision to allow enforcement of Texas's harsh new abortion restrictions should stand, or if it should be placed on hold pending a trial before the Fifth Circuit in January.
"In just the few short days since the injunction was lifted, over one-third of the facilities providing abortions in Texas have been forced to stop providing that care and others have been forced to drastically reduce the number of patients to whom they are able to provide care," attorney Janet Crepps, with the Center for Reproductive Rights, explained in her petition to Scalia.
Opponents of the law say that requiring doctors to have hospital admitting privileges at a facility within 30 miles of the abortion clinic provides no real added value to the health and safety of women seeking an abortion, and is instead designed to limit access to abortion services.
A federal judge agreed with that contention last Monday, placing the law on hold less than 24 hours before it was due to take effect. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel wrote that the hospital admitting requirement "is without rational basis and places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus."
Responding to an emergency appeal by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Fifth Circuit Court overturned Judge Yeakel's injunction, which immediately blocked 14 clinics across the state from performing abortions.
Women's health advocates said Monday that at least 140 women have already been denied service at just two clinics, and estimated that more than 22,000 women will be affected within a year by shutting down a third of the state's facilities that perform abortions.
Justice Scalia has given attorneys for the state of Texas until November 12 to respond to women's health advocates. He could refuse the petition and allow enforcement to continue, grant it and let the clinics reopen pending a trial at the Fifth Circuit, or send the matter on to the Supreme Court at large.
Photo: Flickr user Stephen Masker, creative commons licensed.