Texas Ban on Safest Method of Abortion After 15 Weeks Inches Closer to Supreme Court

Fifth Circuit now reviewing law that would force Texas doctors to perform higher-risk procedures that go against their best medical judgment

(PRESS RELEASE) - Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Paxton, an appeal to the successful challenge of a Texas measure banning the most common and very safe method of ending a pregnancy after approximately 15 weeks in Texas. Last year, a Texas federal district court struck down the ban as unconstitutional in a lawsuit brought by Whole Woman’s Health, several Planned Parenthood affiliates, and other Texas abortion providers, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Morrison & Foerster, and Patrick J. O’Connell.

Depending on the Fifth Circuit’s ruling, the case could make its way to the Supreme Court, becoming one of the first reproductive rights cases to come before Justice Kavanaugh. To date, every court that has reviewed similar bans has blocked the laws from taking effect, including in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Kentucky.

Major medical organizations, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) oppose these types of bans, writing “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.”

This law is another example of Texas politicians trying to play doctor in the legislature, without any supporting scientific evidence or medical facts.” says Amy Hagstrom Miller, President and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance.  “Texans deserve better. Women count on us for expert medical care and they deserve to have physicians who can care for them to the highest level of their expertise and training. This ban ties the hands of physicians and harms women.  We remain committed to fighting back and leading the way toward a better future for all Texans.”

“Texas women deserve the best medical care available, and this ban prevents doctors from providing that,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This ban also defies Supreme Court precedent, which prohibits state restrictions that make abortion less safe. We hope the Fifth Circuit will recognize what every court to analyze similar measures has already recognized: this ban is blatantly unconstitutional and puts medical decisions in the hands of politicians, not patients and their doctors.”

"This ban has no basis in medicine and is part of an extreme political agenda to ban abortion," said Yvonne Gutierrez, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. "It would prevent doctors from providing care based on what's best for their patients, which is dangerous and deeply disturbing."

The ban is part of SB8, a sweeping anti-abortion bill passed in 2017 as part of a coordinated national strategy by anti-abortion legislators. States have passed nearly 400 restrictions on abortion since 2011, with Texas alone passing 22 restrictions since 2010. A federal district court judge issued a permanent injunction against another provision of SB8 in September that requires health care providers to bury or cremate all embryonic and fetal tissue from abortions, miscarriages, and ectopic pregnancy surgeries—regardless of their patients’ personal wishes.

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down another attempt to limit abortion in Texas by shutting down clinics in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a lawsuit also brought by Whole Woman’s Health,  represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights. In its ruling, the Supreme Court made clear that abortion restrictions must clear a very high constitutional bar, and that laws designed just to cut off abortion access, or burden women without countervailing benefit, are unconstitutional and must be struck down. The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed a person’s fundamental right to access safe, legal abortion time and again.

The challenge to Texas’ method ban was filed in 2017 by Janet Crepps and Molly Duane of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Melissa Cohen and Jennifer Keighley of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, J. Alexander Lawrence of the law firm Morrison & Foerster, and Austin attorney Patrick J. O’Connell in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on behalf of Whole Woman’s Health, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance,  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.