Appeals court deals major blow to abortion access, allowing Texas to criminalize the standard procedure for abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy
08.18.2021 – (PRESS RELEASE) Today, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals became the first federal court in the U.S. to uphold a ban on the standard method of abortion after approximately 15 weeks of pregnancy, known as D&E (dilation and evacuation). Just last year, a 5th Circuit panel of judges struck down this ban as unconstitutional. The full 5th Circuit then took the unusual step of deciding on its own to vacate the panel decision and rehear the case in front of the full court in January, resulting in today’s decision.
Doctors who violate the ban on the procedure will face up to two years in prison. Major medical organizations including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) strongly oppose these types of abortion bans, noting, “These restrictions represent legislative interference at its worst: doctors will be forced, by ill-advised, unscientifically motivated policy, to provide lesser care to patients. This is unacceptable.” Similar bans on D&E procedures have been blocked or are not being fully enforced in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, and Oklahoma.
“This ban is about cutting off abortion access, and nothing else,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health (a plaintiff in this case). “In no other area of medicine would politicians consider preventing doctors from using a standard procedure. It should never be a crime for doctors to use their best medical judgment and follow the most current science. Texans deserve the best care available, and this law prevents that. As the six-week ban is looming, it’s even more apparent that these abortion laws are about making abortion completely inaccessible. Texas lawmakers are coming at us from both ends and will not stop until abortion is illegal.”
“Texas has been hellbent on legislating abortion out of existence, and it is galling that a federal court would uphold a law that so clearly defies decades of Supreme Court precedent,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “At a time when the health care needs of Texans are greater than ever, the state should be making abortion more accessible, not less. There is no question that today’s decision will harm those who already face the greatest barriers to health care. We are analyzing this decision and will consider all of our legal options.”
“Today’s decision is deeply disturbing to me as a physician. By allowing the state to ban the standard method of abortion at this stage of pregnancy, the court has allowed extremist politicians to interfere in private health care decisions that should stay between patients and their physicians,” said Dr. Bhavik Kumar, abortion provider at Planned Parenthood Center for Choice, in Houston (a plaintiff in this case). “This ban threatens the safety of my patients and punishes doctors for using our best medical judgment, training, and expertise. As a physician, I see the real-life consequences of these politically motivated restrictions. I know firsthand that any time health care is restricted, people suffer — and their families and communities are also irreparably harmed. This ban is even more dangerous when you consider Texas’ other extreme abortion restrictions that are already in place — or could soon take effect — like S.B. 8, which bans abortion at approximately six weeks, before many people even know they‘re pregnant.”
“This attack on our constitutional right to safe, legal abortion is unconscionable. Texas’s state politicians continue to ignore the urgent health needs of their constituents. While his state grapples with a public health crisis, Gov. Greg Abbott will be able to ban a standard abortion procedure after 15 weeks, all while enacting more restrictions like S.B. 8 that push abortion further out of reach,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “This ruling is a discriminatory attack against people of color, people with low incomes, women, and those in rural communities. These are people who already struggle to access health care because of systemic barriers put in their way. Bans like these create a world where your ability to control your life depends on who you are and how much money you earn. Planned Parenthood and our partners will continue fighting this dangerous ban in every way possible, along with unconstitutional laws like S.B. 8 which ban abortion at six weeks.”
During the 2021 legislative session, Texas politicians passed two extreme abortion restrictions, including S.B. 8, a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — before many people even know they are pregnant. This law is currently being challenged in court, and the plaintiffs have requested the court block it before it can take effect on Sept 1. The state already has many burdensome laws and regulations that make it harder for Texans to access abortion, including mandated, biased counseling and a law that forces patients to make two trips to a health center 24 hours apart to receive care. There is also a ban on the use of telemedicine to provide medication abortion, a ban on insurance coverage for abortion, and a parental consent and notification law.
As of 2017, some 96% of Texas counties had no clinics that provided abortion. Half the abortion clinics in Texas were already shut down by a devastating state abortion restriction that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Most never reopened.
The challenge to Texas’s D&E abortion ban was filed in 2017 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on behalf of Whole Woman’s Health (which manages four health clinics in the state of Texas), Planned Parenthood Center for Choice, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Services, Planned Parenthood South Texas Surgical Center, Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services, Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center, and several individual physicians. The plaintiffs are represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Morrison & Foerster who is serving as pro-bono counsel, and Austin attorney Patrick J. O’Connell.
Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable sexual and reproductive health care for all people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 600 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect, and without judgment, striving to create equitable access to health care. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable education and information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives. Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that supports the independently incorporated Planned Parenthood affiliates operating health centers across the U.S.