In a win for abortion rights groups, a federal appeals court has struck down a Texas law that had banned an abortion procedure that is commonly used after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit decided Tuesday to lift the state’s ban on dilation and evacuation (D&E), a standard method of abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit in 2017 challenging the ban on behalf of Whole Woman’s Health in partnership with Planned Parenthood.
The law “unduly burdens a woman’s constitutionally-protected right to obtain a pre-viability abortion,” Judge James L. Dennis wrote in the decision. He added that the law “also forces abortion providers to act contrary to their medical judgment and the best interest of their patient by conducting a medical procedure that delivers no benefit to the woman.”
The Texas measure, which had been blocked from taking effect, prohibited what it called “dismemberment abortions,” a term adopted by abortion-rights opponents to target D&E procedures. Doctors who violated the ban would have faced up to two years in prison.
But a D&E abortion is the safest and most common method of second-trimester abortions in Texas and nationwide, with the procedure occurring after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy as measured from a person’s last menstrual period.
In the first stage, a physician dilates the cervix. In the second stage, also known as evacuation, the physician uses suction, forceps, or other tools to remove the fetus through the dilated cervical opening. Just 11% of abortions nationwide take place after the first trimester, and about 95% of them are done using D&E, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Texas said that the law did not impermissibly restrict abortion access because there are procedures causing fetal death in utero that must be used in addition to D&E to ensure an abortion compliant with the law. Eight licensed abortion clinics and three abortion providers, who were the plaintiffs in the case, argued that the additional procedures would place “a substantial obstacle to a woman’s right to a second trimester D&E abortion.”