tiles, water fountains, clinic doors weigh on Texas abortion case
Send a link to a friend
[February 29, 2016]
By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A pivotal
abortion case coming before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday forces
the justices to ponder seemingly mundane matters such as corridor width,
the swinging motion of doors, floor tiles and the angle that water flows
from drinking fountains.
Abortion providers have challenged a Republican-backed law passed
in Texas in 2013. At issue are two provisions, one involving
facility standards for abortion clinics and the other involving
physician affiliation with hospitals.
The state has said the voluminous hospital-grade standards that
abortion clinics must meet were necessary to protect patient safety.
Abortion rights advocates contend the regulations were intended to
cause the closure of clinics by forcing them into costly
construction for unnecessary facilities that serve no public health
The regulations have been put on hold by a lower court pending the
Supreme Court ruling. The other portion of the law being challenged,
requiring abortion doctors to have "admitting privileges" at a local
hospital, has gone into effect.
A 117-page document outlines the building standards and operations
for so-called ambulatory surgical centers in Texas.
These standards dictate minimum corridor width, the spacing of beds,
the number of parking spaces, elevator size, building ventilation,
electrical wiring, plumbing, floor tiling, the size of patient
recovery rooms, the presence of hand-washing fixtures in bathrooms
and the availability of liquid or foam soap dispensers.
The regulations specify the size and swinging motion of doors, the
material for door frames, the need for washable ceilings, the angle
that water flows out of drinking fountains, the availability of
waiting areas with toilets, public pay phones, potable drinking
water and a reception area.
They also require the existence of spaces for private interviews
relating to social services or other matters, offices for business
transactions, storage rooms, medical records storage and wheelchair
[to top of second column]
For abortion clinics not originally built to meet these standards,
it could be easier to rebuild completely than to retrofit an
existing facility, according to abortion rights advocates.
A U.S. district judge said in 2014 that if the law were fully
implemented, the number of licensed abortion clinics in Texas, a
state with 27 million people, would drop to eight from the 40 that
existed before the measure took effect.
The shorthanded Supreme Court, with only eight justices following
Antonin Scalia's death on Feb. 13, is due to hear arguments on
Wednesday and issue a ruling by the end of June.
The Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion policy and supports
abortion rights, said five other states have laws requiring abortion
clinics to meet the ambulatory surgical center requirements: Kansas,
Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Utah. As in Texas, the Kansas
regulations have been put on hold by a court.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Will Dunham)
[© 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2016 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.