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Texas Appeals Federal Court Order Blocking Unconstitutional Restrictions on Miscarriage and Abortion Care

Federal district court halted vague, burdensome regulations after legal challenge by Center for Reproductive Rights

(MEDIA ADVISORY) The state of Texas late yesterday appealed a federal district court ruling secured by the Center for Reproductive Rights that blocked regulations forcing health care providers to bury or cremate embryonic or fetal tissue from abortions, miscarriages or ectopic pregnancy surgery--regardless of the woman’s personal wishes or beliefs.    

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will review the preliminary injunction granted late last month by U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks against the regulations, which forbid doctors from using standard, medical methods to dispose of this tissue, forcing them to use funeral methods instead. These restrictions serve no legitimate medical purpose and were designed to shame women and restrict abortion access.

Judge Sparks blocked the restrictions from taking effect after determining that they are hazardously vague, serve no legitimate state interest and will likely impose new burdens on health care providers and the women they serve.

Among other burdens, Judge Sparks found that the regulations would likely “increase costs for healthcare providers, enhance the stigma on women associated with miscarriage and abortion care, and create potentially devastating logistical challenges for abortion providers throughout Texas.”

In a particularly unusual move, the state is requesting the district court stop all legal proceedings until the appellate court rules on whether or not to review the injunction.

The restrictions were first proposed just four days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic June 2016 Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision, which held that restrictions on legal abortion cannot impose burdens on a woman’s right to access abortion care without providing any legitimate, medical benefit. The district court ruling acknowledged that this timing “suggests the actual purpose of the [regulations] is to limit abortion access in Texas.”

The state’s appeal filing has no immediate effect on the preliminary injunction, which remains in place.

Said David Brown, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Texas is once again wasting taxpayer resources defending unconstitutional and unwanted restrictions that are as crass as they are pointless.

“The state should be working to support the health and fundamental rights of all Texans, not going out of its way to attack health care providers and insult women.”

Litigation Details

The lawsuit demands that the state halt implementation of regulations finalized in December 2016 by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) over the objections of women’s health organizations and the medical community. The Center for Reproductive Rights sued the state of Texas in December.

At a two-day hearing last month, the Center presented extensive testimony demonstrating that these regulations will create substantial uncertainty, violate women’s privacy, impose the State’s ideology on women, discourage women from seeking medical care, and threaten loss of access to healthcare services while potentially increasing their cost – all while doing nothing to improve the health and safety of Texas women.

Last July, the Center for Reproductive Rights sued the state of Louisiana to block a similar regulation, which is currently on hold while litigation continues. A third such restriction, in Indiana, has been blocked by court order amid litigation brought by Planned Parenthood.

These regulations are part of an ongoing attack across the country to restrict access to legal abortion through unnecessary regulations that endanger women’s health and safety. State legislators have passed more than 330 new restrictions on abortion access in the last five years alone.

The lawsuit was filed by David Brown, Stephanie Toti and Molly Duane of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Austin attorney Patrick O’Connell, and J. Alexander Lawrence of the law firm Morrison & Foerster in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on behalf of Whole Woman’s Health, Brookside Women’s Health Center and Austin Women’s Health Center, Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services, Reproductive Services and Dr. Lendol Davis.  

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