AUSTIN, Texas (BP) — A provision in a Texas pro-life law was struck down Monday by a U.S. district judge who declared the provision unconstitutional, just hours before the overall law went into effect.
While media attention emphasized the presumed demise of what they called a key facet of the bill, the heart of House Bill 2 – protection of babies from abortion after 20 weeks of gestation — quietly became the law of Texas.
“That’s going into effect today. We’re very excited about that,” said Emily Horne, legislative associate for Texas Right Life.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately filed an emergency stay against Judge Lee Yeakel’s ruling, calling on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to allow the bill to go into effect, full force, while pending an appeal. A decision could be made later today.
Yeakel declared unconstitutional the requirement of HB2 that abortion doctors receive admitting privileges to local hospitals.
Rep. Jodie Laubenburg, R.-Murphy, author of HB2, said she is not surprised by Yeakel’s ruling but is confident it will not hold up on appeal. She issued a statement via her chief of staff, Suzanne Bowers: “It’s a good bill that was carefully written to meet the challenges of protecting life and at the same time offering safety and protection for women seeking an abortion.”
Texas joins a band of states whose recent legislative restrictions on abortion procedures, abortionists and their clinics have come under judicial scrutiny. Planned Parenthood and a host of Texas abortion providers and physicians challenged the admitting privileges requirement and restrictions placed on the dispensing of the abortion-inducing medication RU 486.
HB2 stipulated that abortionists attain admitting privileges to a hospital within a 30-mile radius of the abortion clinic. Doctors also would have to oversee the use of abortion-inducing drugs instead of prescribing them for home use.
Yeakel, in his ruling, wrote that the admitting requirement was “without a rational basis and places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion.”
His ruling on the use of RU 486 is a little vague though, Horne said.
Yeakel wrote that the law’s restrictions “do not rise to the level of an undue burden.” But he later qualified that statement, writing that the medication abortion restriction may not be enforced if, in the judgment of the attending physician, the life or health of the mother is at risk.
Supporters of the legislation, though disappointed with the ruling, were not surprised and are confident the bill will hold up in the appellate process.
Sen. Glenn Hegar, R.-Katy, who authored the senate version of the bill, voiced “absolute confidence that they will continue the legal fight to ensure the enactment of this legislation in its entirety and will ultimately be successful in their efforts.”
Controversial pro-life legislation often is declared unconstitutional in the first round of legal challenges by pro-choice advocates, yet Texas has a track record of winning on appeal.
Keith Sanders, pastor of First Baptist Church in Keller, said, “I would encourage all of our pastors to lead our churches to pray for the appellate process since in this case, as in the past, one local judge may seek to overturn a law, then there’s a favorable ruling at higher level.”
Sanders recently heard Abbott, the Texas attorney general, address the issue and expressed confidence that the AG is willing to pursue the case to the Supreme Court if necessary.
Sanders addressed the issue from Amarillo where the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is convened for its annual meeting. The convention passed without opposition a resolution affirming the “courage under fire” of the 83rd Texas Legislature and its members who support life.
Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.