SCOTUS Blocks Appeals Court Ruling on Texas Abortion Clinics

The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a stay of a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that would have shut down most of the abortion clinics in the state of Texas. The 5th Circuit overturned a lower court decision in a challenge to a new state law that placed strict limits on clinics that required most of them to shut down. Lyle Denniston explains what the court did:

Over the dissents of three Justices, the Supreme Court on Tuesday evening barred Texas from enforcing two parts of its new abortion-restriction law — one part as it applied throughout the state, the other as it applied to two clinics in the southwest part of the state.

The state may not now enforce a requirement that all clinics in the state upgrade their facilities to be hospital-like surgical centers, even when they perform abortions only through the use of drugs, not surgery. And it may not enforce, against the clinics in McAllen and El Paso, a requirement that all doctors performing abortions have privileges to admit patients to a hospital within thirty miles of the clinic. That requirement can continue to be enforced elsewhere in Texas, the Court indicated.

Those two provisions, together, had reduced the number of clinics still operating in the state to seven, with an eighth soon to open. At one time recently, Texas had forty-one clinics. The Supreme Court’s action Tuesday will allow the reopening of thirteen closed clinics on Wednesday, lawyers for the clinics said.

The Court’s order will remain in effect while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rules on a constitutional challenge to the two measures. That court had previously upheld the admitting privileges requirement as it applied all across the state. Most recently, it had blocked a new ruling by a judge in Austin that seemed to invalidate the two provisions statewide.

The Supreme Court gave no explanation for the four-sentence order. It noted that Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas would have refused to delay any part of the state requirements. They did not give their reasoning. It would have taken the votes of five Justices to block the provisions, so it appears that at least that number from among the other six Justices voted for the result. The Justices voting for the order were not noted.

This certainly means that the four liberal justices and Justice Kennedy voted for the stay and Chief Justice John Roberts likely did as well. That’s a good sign. But this is only temporary. The 5th Circuit case will continue and they will hand down a full ruling at some point, then it will almost surely be back to the Supreme Court.

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  • eric

    Also worth quoting from the article:

    The lawyers had told the Court that, for the time being, there were no licensed facilities to provide abortions anywhere in the state south or west of San Antonio — “an area larger than most states.”

    I hope that means ‘south and west of San Antonio. South or west would be over half the state.

  • D. C. Sessions

    I’m not sure that there were ever more than one or two clinics northof San Antonio.

  • karmacat

    What I don’t understand about these laws is that these legislators and judges trying to shut down these clinics. are making medical decisions. they are basically practicing medicine without a medical license. Why isn’t anyone saying that this is not a legal issue but a medical issue. The people with medical expertise should be the ones deciding on patient safety. Doctors don’t have to have privileges at the local hospital for the patient to be able to go to the hospital through the ER or their own primary care dr. Most primary care physicians don’t have privileges at hospitals.

  • moarscienceplz

    It noted that Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas would have refused to delay any part of the state requirements.

    Anybody fresh from Liberia want to shake the hands of three Supreme Court Justices?

  • D. C. Sessions

    Most primary care physicians don’t have privileges at hospitals.

    Of course not — they have no need to practice there (by definition.) And as a result, most hospitals don’t extend admitting privileges to PCPs — there’s a cost involved, among other things. Which is why requiring a primary care physician to have admitting privileges is such a sweet way of making their practice illegal.

    Get it?

  • doublereed

    @3 karmacat

    That is what pro-choice defenders say all the time. The whole tagline of “the only people making medical decisions should be the woman and her doctor.”

    Yes, pro-lifers want to get involved there. Yes, they want to have the government invade medical practice, for all the wrong reasons.

  • leni

    Why isn’t anyone saying that this is not a legal issue but a medical issue.

    Millions of pro-choice American women are saying exactly that. And have been for decades. It’s just that a lot of people don’t really give a shit about what women or medical professionals think.

  • dukeofomnium

    I get a feeling that “social conservatives” are, and will continue to be, largely disappointed in Chief Justice Roberts. However, Big Business still loves him.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Chief Justice Roberts is playing a long game, reshaping American law by introducing new principles that have never had any authority before such as “equal State sovereignty” that overrides actual Constitutional text.