In striking down the admitting privileges section, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said that abortionists' inability to admit an injured woman to a local hospital has “no rational relationship to improved patient care.”
The state had hoped the law, which said abortionists must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, would reduce patient abandonment, in which abortionists turn a woman over to a hospital without giving the emergency room sufficient information about the patient's condition. Planned Parenthood has been accused of such a failure of care in the case of Tonya Reaves, who bled to death after an abortion in Chicago last year. But Judge Yeakel ruled even the Texas law would gave no assurance such behavior would be “assuaged.”
Yeakel added that the fact that the provision could force abortionists in remote areas out of business “places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus and is thus an undue burden to her.”
Another key section of the act – requiring that the abortion-inducing drugs RU-486 and misoprostol be administered according to FDA-accepted norms – was restricted in the 26-page opinion, which was issued the day before the law was to take effect.
Yeakel ruled the law could not be applied to women between 50 and 63 days gestation who are medically unable to have a surgical abortion and whose "life or health" is at risk.
Most medical abortions are not carried out according to the FDA-approved procedure, which Yeakel acknowledges “requires more of a physician's time” and is “marginally more expensive.”
Supporters of the new law had said that failing to follow FDA guidelines could put women's lives at risk.
“Women have died when given life-ending drugs against the advice of the FDA,” said Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life. “Protecting women’s lives and health – inside or outside of an abortion clinic – should be an area of bipartisan agreement.”
"Blocking this law only puts vulnerable women in greater danger,” said Anna Higgins, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council.
The lawsuit, which was brought by Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and a dozen abortionists, did not challenge the heart of the law - the prohibition on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy on the grounds that unborn children can feel pain. A section forcing abortion facilities to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical facilities beginning in 2014, which critics say could close dozens of abortion facilities, was also ignored. Only five of the state's 42 abortion facilities meet the new standards.
Texas' elected leaders promised a swift legal response. Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor in 2014, said he will appeal the case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, but said he could see it going to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Governor Rick Perry, who signed the law, said the ruling “will not stop our ongoing efforts to protect life and ensure the women of our state aren't exposed to any more of the abortion-mill horror stories that have made headlines recently.” He added that pro-life laws “reflect the will and values of Texans."
H.B. 2 became a flashpoint in the nation's culture wars this summer, as pro-life and pro-abortion activists from across the country streamed into Austin to sway lawmakers. Wendy Davis, who recently announced that she will be running for state governor, catapulted to national fame after a long filibuster against the bill, which only postponed its passage.
In his ruling, Yeakel called abortion “the most divisive issue to face this country since slavery.” But that has not kept the judge – who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush in 2003 – from weighing in on it before.
Last April, he struck down a law that would ban Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds. The Fifth Circuit Appeals Court overturned his ruling a month later.