Judge knew limits in Texas abortion case

Posted Monday, Oct. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Federal District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin struck a measured tone Monday when he ruled that a key provision of Texas’ new abortion law violates the U.S. Constitution.

He struck down the provision that would require abortion clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital not more than 30 miles away.

Although he let stand a provision of the new law restricting drug-induced abortions, he said the physician’s “appropriate medical judgment” should determine whether that method should be preferred in individual cases.

Yeakel’s ruling will be appealed, most likely as far as the U.S. Supreme Court. But he had a job to do in the suit filed by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, and he did it.

“Today there is no issue that divides the people of this country more than abortion,” Yeakel wrote. “Legislatures and courts will continue to be confounded by the issue for the foreseeable future. No ruling of this court will sway the opinion regarding abortion held by anyone. And, indeed, that is not the role of this court. The court may not and will not decide whether there should be abortions in Texas.”

His task was to determine whether two parts of the law passed by the Legislature in July “are consistent with the Constitution of the United States under existing Supreme Court precedent.”

Yeakel noted the principles under which he was required to rule:

• A woman has the right to terminate her pregnancy before the point of “fetal viability,” when the fetus could survive outside her womb.

• States may not pass laws that impose an “undue burden” on a woman’s decision about abortion before fetal viability.

• States may pass laws limiting abortion after fetal viability, except where it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

Yeakel’s reasoning was clear and well stated. But as he said, this is a difficult issue.

The 5th Circuit or the Supreme Court might clearly state a different opinion.

Time will tell.

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