Jessica Johnson, Contributing Writer
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel nullified a portion of House Bill 2 (HB2) on Friday, Aug. 29. This section would have required all abortion facilities in Texas to meet the standards of ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs). As a result, over a dozen abortion facilities throughout the state that were slated to close on Sept. 1 will now remain open. This includes the Abortion Advantage clinic, where the University of Dallas’ prolife organization, Crusaders for Life, holds Prayerful Presence weekly.
HB2 has been the subject of national media attention since last summer, when the bill was passed by the Texas legislature and signed into law by Governor Rick Perry. The most significant and controversial measures contained in the law include a requirement that all abortionists have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of their clinics, and that abortion facilities meet the standards of ASCs. Friday’s ruling not only struck down the provision requiring ASC standards, but also granted the plaintiff, Whole Women’s Health, permission to continue operating two clinics in McAllen and El Paso where abortionists do not have hospital admitting privileges.
In his ruling, Judge Yeakel stated that the ASC requirement would place an “undue burden” on women in rural Texas who would have to travel more than 150 miles to obtain an abortion as a result of closing clinics. The concept of placing an undue burden on women’s ability to obtain an abortion originated with the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Judge Yeakel’s ruling is the first to define an undue burden as travel in excess of 150 miles.
The state attorney general has appealed the case to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans, LA. The court will determine if an emergency stay is needed on last Friday’s ruling. Such an action would allow the ASC law to go into effect until the appeal is resolved. The hearing is scheduled for Sept. 12.
Dr. Christopher Wolfe, the newest member of the UD Politics Department and a scholar of constitutional law, commented on Friday’s ruling. “As Justice Scalia said in dissent in [Planned Parenthood v. Casey], ‘What does undue burden mean?’ It’s what a judge thinks is too much of a burden,” he said. “Why is it such a burden to hold abortion clinics, which do medical procedures, to the standards that other medical institutions are held to?”
“It’s a typical example of the fact that under modern constitutional law, a lot of policy-making power is delegated to judges,” Wolfe stated.
Wolfe encouraged students to “exercise their political rights to vote and to help candidates that they think will advance a better understandingof the constitution.”
Pro-life advocates at UD and in the wider Dallas community have responded swiftly to the recent developments in HB2. The Catholic Pro-Life Committee, part of the Respect Life Ministry of the Diocese of Dallas, has expanded its sidewalk counseling ministry to reach a newly opened Planned Parenthood clinic. Planned Parenthood recently purchased an existing ASC in south Dallas and began practicing abortions there in August.
Although the members of Crusaders for Life had originally intended to move Prayerful Presence to Planned Parenthood before the recent ruling, they will continue to be present at Abortion Advantage for as long as it remains open.
Senior Allie Rogers, treasurer of Crusaders for Life, is optimistic about the appeals process. “We are hopeful about what the ruling will be from the fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but no matter what happens, Crusaders for Life will continue to fight for life,” she said. “We will be out there on the sidewalks praying and counseling as long as there are women who need our help. We will not give up.”