Abortion laws in Texas became international news in 2013, back when Wendy Davis was wearing pink sneakers and a filibuster in the Capitol drew 180,000 people to a live stream. In the two years since the legislature passed an omnibus abortion bill that tightened regulations for abortion clinics, though, it’s mostly just been a Texas story. A long, convoluted one, to be certain, but not one that gets a lot of talk outside of the state.
But on Wednesday, the New York Times rediscovered what HB2 meant to Texas, and what it could mean to the rest of the country. And though the effects have been predictable—the number of abortion clinics in Texas have been cut in half since its passage—it hasn’t even been fully implemented due to the ongoing legal battle regarding its constitutionality.
That’s why there’s another bit of abortion news in Texas right now: the Reproductive Services abortion clinic in El Paso is set to be the first clinic in the state to reopen after the Supreme Court issued a stay on HB2 in June that prevented the law from being implemented. As the Associated Press reports:
An El Paso clinic shuttered by Texas’ tough abortion laws is set to become the first to reopen since the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked enforcement of key restrictions nearly two months ago. […]
“They are ready and eager to reopen as soon as they get their license from the state,” said Stephanie Toti, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the El Paso clinic.
The clinic first sought a license six months ago and believed its efforts would be further helped by a June 29 Supreme Court ruling that suspended parts of Texas’ abortion restrictions, which were approved in 2013 and are among the most-stringent in the nation. But the Texas Department of State Health Services didn’t issue the license while it awaited guidance on how to proceed.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel provided that Monday, ordering Texas not to enforce a rule that clinics must meet hospital-like surgical standards that could delay the license for the El Paso clinic — and decreeing that state officials could be held in contempt of court for failure to comply.
Yeakel has been a key player in the battle over HB2 since it began: He ruled against attempts from the state to restrict abortions, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals then overturned Yeakel’s rulings, and the Supreme Court finally put everything on hold while it makes its decisions. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Yeakel ruled that the state must issue the license immediately.
Given that the Supreme Court issued a stay on implementing the legislation, it’s unlikely that the Fifth Circuit would have much to say about Yeakel’s order that the license must be granted. But that doesn’t mean that El Paso’s Reproductive Services is necessarily going to be long for this world, either. The clinic currently meets the standards of care required by law because HB2 isn’t in effect—if the Supreme Court upholds the portion of the 2013 law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, though, then this is likely to be a temporary reopening for the clinic.
Ultimately, that (like the New York Times story) only tells us what we already know: The future of abortion access in Texas is very much up in the air right now, and any clinic attempting to make plans around the current landscape is at risk pending the Supreme Court’s eventual ruling. That’s not even taking any laws passed by the lege in 2017, 2019, or beyond into account. In that way, the reopening of Reproductive Services is small news in the long run—but for those fighting for abortion access in El Paso, it couldn’t be bigger.