NEW ORLEANS – A Texas law outlawing an abortion method commonly used to end second-trimester pregnancies has been upheld by a federal appeals court in New Orleans.
The 2017 law in question has never been enforced. It seeks to prohibit the use of forceps to remove a fetus from the womb without first using an injected drug or a suction procedure to ensure the fetus is dead.
Abortion rights advocates argued that the law, known as SB8 in court records, effectively outlaws what is often the safest method of abortion for women in the second trimester of pregnancy. The procedure is medically known as dilation and evacuation.
They also argued that fetuses cannot feel pain during the gestation period affected by the law.
Texas legislators banned the procedure with a law that describes it as “dismemberment abortion.” Abortion rights supporters argued in court that one alternative provided in the law, using suction to remove a fetus, also results in dismemberment.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked enforcement of the law last year. But Texas was granted a re-hearing by the full court, and a majority of the 14 appellate judges who heard arguments in January (three of the court's 17 active judges were recused) sided with Texas on Wednesday. The opinion, by judges Jennifer Walker Elrod and Don Willett, said “the record shows that doctors can safely perform D&Es and comply with SB8 using methods that are already in widespread use.”
Concurring in the result were judges Priscilla Owen, Edith Jones, Jerry Smith, Catharina Haynes, James Ho, Kurt Engelhardt and Cory Wilson.
Judge James Dennis wrote a dissent, joined by judges Carl Stewart and James Graves. A separate dissent was written by Judge Stephen Higginson, joined by Gregg Costa.
Dennis said the Texas law, “under the guise of regulation, makes it a felony to perform the most common and safe abortion procedure employed during the second trimester.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights is analyzing the decision and considering all legal options, said its president and CEO, Nancy Northup.
”Texas has been hellbent on legislating abortion out of existence, and it is galling that a federal court would uphold a law that so clearly defies decades of Supreme Court precedent,” Northup said. “At a time when the health care needs of Texans are greater than ever, the state should be making abortion more accessible, not less. There is no question that today’s decision will harm those who already face the greatest barriers to health care.”
Texas Right to Life applauded the ruling.
“If the abortion industry appeals today’s decision, the Supreme Court must answer the case’s dynamic legal question: ‘Is a dismemberment abortion inhumane enough to warrant legal prohibition?’” the anti-abortion group's statement said. “The evident answer to this targeted question directly undermines some of the Supreme Court’s central premises in their abortion jurisprudence, such as the misconception that pre-viability abortions are more ethical than those that occur after viability.”
“Texans celebrate today’s long-awaited victory,” Texas Right to Life Director of Media and Communication Kimberlyn Schwartz said in the release. “Anyone can see the cruelty of dismemberment abortions, ripping a child’s body apart while her heart is still beating. We’re grateful the judges recognized this horror.”
This story now includes dropped attribution and quotation marks in the second-to-last paragraph, which is based on a statement by Texas Right to Life.