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Breaking: Supreme Court to review Texas law that shut down most of state’s abortion facilities

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This article was updated on November 13 at 5:15 p.m. Eastern time.

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 13, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - The Supreme Court will rule on a Texas pro-life law that has closed the majority of abortion facilities in the state, the justices announced Friday.

The court will hear a challenge to two aspects of the law: a requirement that abortionists have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their offices and a mandate that abortion facilities meet the same health standards as other ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs).

The case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, was brought by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of independent abortion facilities inside the state. The plaintiffs contend that the two regulations violate the Supreme Court's 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision by imposing an "undue burden" on Texas women's right to obtain an abortion, because too many abortion providers are unable to meet their restrictions.

“It is a sad and dark day for women in Texas,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and chief executive officer of Whole Woman’s Health, when that provision took effect on November 1, 2013, closing roughly half of the state's abortion providers.

The ASC regulation, which went into effect last year, closed 13 abortion facilities in one day by requiring structural changes to abortion offices that their owners deemed cost prohibitive.

“Texas had over forty abortion clinics prior to the enactment of H.B. 2,” Judge Stephen A. Higginson wrote on behalf of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last October, and “after the ASC provision takes effect, only seven or eight clinics will remain.”

According to Fund Texas Choice, the number of abortion facilities in Texas briefly dropped to just eight.

However, on June 29 the Supreme Court stopped the law from going into effect until it decided whether to hear the case. The 5-4 decision that saw Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the court's liberal bloc against Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia.

Abortion facilities unable to meet tighter health restrictions then reopened. The Center for Reproductive Rights says 19 abortion facilities are currently operating statewide.

The lawsuit holds that the law closes too many abortion facilities, requiring rural Texas women to drive hours to have an abortion.

Those closures do not trouble pro-life advocates, who say they represent a step forward by protecting women's health. "If an abortionist closes up because he can't meet these most basic medical standards, that's a good thing for the mothers who would be targeted and the unborn children who would be killed," said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, today.

“Abortion advocates often equate access to abortion with women’s health, but sadly are willing to lower the bar on abortion clinic standards,” said Jeanne Mancini, the president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund.

Texas Alliance for Life President Joe Pojman questioned how much of a burden the law truly represents. "While not our preference, the reality is that abortion will remain readily available in Texas and will continue to occur tens of thousands of times a year even if the Supreme Court allows HB 2 to go into effect. A number of abortion facilities with huge capacity already meet the H.B. 2 safety standards," he said.

The plaintiffs would also like the high court to determine whether the regulations actually promote women's health, something lower courts had not decided. Opponents deem the law medically unnecessary. But supporters say the admitting privileges requirement assures that women who are victims of botched abortions receive a continuity of care.

Texas Right to Life said the case was at odds with the abortion industry's rhetoric. "On the one hand, the abortion industry clamors for uninterrupted taxpayer funding for alleged 'women’s healthcare,' denying they use fungible funds for abortion," the group said in a statement. "On the other hand, the abortion industry insists on the right to operate in the absence of the basic health and safety standards to which similar medical professions are held."

Americans United for Life President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest said the decision to review the case “is the right choice given all that we know now about the dangers of abortion for women and their unborn children."

According to AUL, more than 150 abortionists in at least 30 states and Washington, D.C., have faced criminal charges, investigations, complaints from administrative agencies, or civil lawsuits over the abortions they provide.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, agreed that the two parts of the law in question constitute "commonsense proposals" in "a post-Kermit Gosnell world."

The law's supporters are confident they will prevail. Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Steven H. Aden said the law stood "on firm ground," because "abortionists should not be exempt from medical requirements that everyone else is required to follow.”

The case will not touch upon other provisions of the law, signed in 2013 by then-Governor Rick Perry, such as limiting abortion to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The Supreme Court's last ruling on abortion was 2007's Gonzales v. Carhart ruling, which upheld the constitutionality of the partial birth abortion ban.

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