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Texas Hospitals Revoke Admitting Privileges to Abortion Providers

Reproductive health access in Texas continues to vanish in the wake of HB 2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill that, among other things, requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges in order to keep their clinics open. Three Texas abortion providers this week had their hospital admitting privileges revoked at nearby hospitals after abortion opponents threatened the hospitals with negative publicity.

Foundation Surgical Hospital of El Paso revoked Dr. Pamela Richter's temporary admitting privileges last week without notice or explanation. Dr. Richter, who provides abortion care at Reproductive Services in El Paso, immediately filed for a temporary restraining order, but federal district judge Lee Yeakel denied her request Wednesday afternoon. Although Judge Yeakel said he believed "irreparable harm" would be caused to the over one million people living in the clinic's vicinity, he ultimately ruled that plaintiffs had not met the legal requirements for the restraining order.

"Forcing patients to travel hundreds of miles to the nearest clinic does absolutely nothing to improve any 'health or safety measures. In fact, it does exactly the opposite," Heather Busby, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, told ThinkProgress. "But we knew all along HB 2 was not about improving care, but making it inaccessible."

Dr. Richter has performed over 17,000 abortions over her career - and not once has required admitting privileges or sent a patient to the hospital for post-abortion care. Reproductive Services, however, will no longer be able to provide abortion services.

In North Texas, Doctors Lamar Robinson and Jasbir Ahluwalia received notices on March 31 informing them that their admitting privileges to the University General Hospital of Dallas had been revoked, with the hospital's CEO claiming the hospital was unaware they were providing abortion care and that the hospital believed such care would damage its reputation. A Dallas County judge granted Robinson and Ahluwalia a temporary restraining order against HB 2 until their legal challenge can receive a full hearing on April 30. Both doctors claim that they were open about their off-site abortion services when they applied for admitting privileges. Federal and state laws also forbid hospitals from discriminating against doctors who perform abortions.

Texas advocates expressed fears during legislative debate over HB 2 that anti-abortion protesters would pressure hospitals to deny abortion providers required admitting privileges, and as predicted, reproductive rights opponents in the state have indeed developed templates for action - including threatening protests and vigils on hospital grounds - with the intent to convince hospitals to revoke admitting privileges for abortion providers.

"Texas has put the constitutional rights of women in the hands of hospital administrators," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which has filed two legal challenges to HB2. "As a consequence, the list of high-quality abortion providers forced to turn away patients continues to grow, while reproductive health care options for Texas women continue to shrink."

Before HB 2 was enacted in Texas, the state had 44 operating abortion clinics. Now, at least 20 have closed - and a 400-mile region in the state has been left with no clinics at all. Many women are being forced to cross state lines to access abortion care, and those who cannot find the resources to do so are resorting to illegal and unsafe methods to end their pregnancies.

Earlier this month, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Texas filed a petition asking the full US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to reconsider its panel decision upholding the constitutionality of HB 2's admitting privileges requirement.

Media Resources: RH Reality Check, 4/17/2014, 4/18/2014; Center for Reproductive Rights Press Release 4/17/14; ThinkProgress 4/18/2014; Feminist Newswire 3/6/2014, 4/14/2014

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