This post also appears on scotusblog.com
Expecting that one side or the other will quickly take the dispute on to the Supreme Court, lawyers for abortion doctors and clinics in Texas on Friday asked a federal appeals court to rule by next Friday on the next step in the case. The challengers to new abortion restrictions are seeking to delay a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that the lawyers said will lead to the closing of ten of the nineteen clinics now operating in the state. They want that ruling put on hold during any appeal to the Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit upheld most of the new limits on abortion clinic operations, and that decision is now scheduled to go into effect July 1. On Thursday, the appeals court asked the clinics’ lawyers to spell out in detail what would happen if their request for a postponement were turned down.
After detailing what they expect to happen in that event, the clinics’ letter cited the “time-sensitive nature” of their plea for a postponement, noted that whoever loses on that point is likely to then go to the Supreme Court, and asked the appeals court to rule by next Friday at the latest. A ruling by then, the attorneys said, “would permit the Supreme Court to consider the losing party’s request for relief by July 1, or shortly thereafter.”
In response to the request for information about the impact on the clinics, their attorneys noted that the Texas law had already led to the closing of twenty-two of the forty-one licensed facilities that had been providing abortion services in the state, and would force the closing of ten of the remaining nineteen if the appeals court’s new ruling is not postponed. An eleventh clinic, in McAllen along the Texas-Mexico border, could not begin obeying the new surgical services mandate of the new law by July, and probably could not do so for some time, likely several months.
A now-closed clinic in El Paso would remain closed, the letter said. In all, the letter summed up, only eight clinics would be able to provide abortion services, and those are all located in the state’s major cities, meaning that women in the more rural areas of the state would have to go long distances to find an open facility.
At issue in the case are two key parts of a 2013 state law that require doctors performing abortions at clinics to have privileges to admit patients to nearby hospitals, and that require abortion clinics to have facilities equal to those that provide surgical services.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court may act as early as Monday on a pending abortion case from Mississippi, involving an appeal by state officials in support of a law that the Fifth Circuit blocked because it would lead to the closing of the only remaining abortion clinic in that state.