In a unanimous vote, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned a lower court ruling that found Texas'
s abortion restrictions to be an "unconstitutional undue burden on women." Thursday's decision meant 3 abortion providers that did not meet the new stringent requirements had to shut down, effective immediately.
The ruling "has gutted Texas women's constitutional rights and access to critical reproductive health care, and stands to make safe, legal abortion essentially disappear overnight," Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the New York Times.
Why is this happening? Texas' abortion restrictions have been a source of debate for months. In 2013, Gov. Rick Perry signed a sweeping abortion law, which forces abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and to have hospital-grade facilities. While Perry and his proponents argue they're trying to protect women's health, critiques point out it severely limits women's access to abortion — and that might have been the agenda all along.
It's clearly working: Before last summer, Texas had 41 abortion providers throughout the state. Now there are only eight, and they are all located in the big urban centers of Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin. There won't be a single abortion clinic south or west of San Antonio, which means that there are now nearly 1 million Texan women who will have to travel 150 miles or more to obtain an abortion.
This is the new legal battleground. Back in August, Judge Lee Yeakel of U.S. District Court in Austin found that the new law created "a brutally effective system of abortion regulation that reduces access to abortion clinics," which works "just as drastically as a complete ban on abortion."
In the new ruling , however, the judges said they did not see any "evidence that the previous closures ... have caused women to be turned away from clinics."
And Texas isn't alone. According to Bloomberg Businessweek , 30 states passed 135 new abortion laws just from 2011 to 2012. And if the courts don't find them unconstitutional, the ground gained by Roe v. Wade will be taken back, one small restriction at a time.