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The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Friday keeps Texas’ new abortion restrictions in place, but it handed abortion providers a critical victory because it allows them to continue their legal challenge of the new law.

For now, officials at Whole Woman’s Health say they will continue to abide by the Texas law that now bars abortions past about six weeks of pregnancy, when an embryo’s cardiac activity is detected, because the law has not actually been blocked in the courts. Providers believe that goal is far more attainable now because the high court has upheld their challenges to it.

“Finally, we have hope for an end to this horrific abortion ban,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates several clinics in Texas. ”The legal back and forth has been excruciating for our patients and gut-wrenching for our staff. We’ve had to turn hundreds of patients away since this ban took effect, and the Supreme Court’s refusal to block the law means the heartbreak doesn’t end. Texans deserve abortion care in their own communities.”

Until then, they said, the battle continues.

“Our fight against this law is not over, and Whole Woman’s Health is here for the long haul, Hagstrom Miller said. “We hope this law is blocked quickly so we can resume the full scope of abortion care we are trained to provide.”

If the court does eventually strike down the law, medical providers can go back to performing abortions up to the 20th week of pregnancy.

But the law, providers say, has already had a chilling effect on staff who want job stability, on patients who remain unclear what their rights are and on the funding and longevity of the clinics themselves.

When Texas imposed the most restrictive abortion law in the nation in September, doctors and clinics were forced to move quickly to get their patients to out-of-state providers as they waited to see if the law would pass constitutional muster at the nation’s highest court.

“It’s going to take a long time for Texas to rebuild,” Hagstrom Miller said. “And this is the damage that is intended from this law.”

Prolonging the uncertainty is the fact that the decision could mean little in the long term depending on how the Supreme Court rules on a Mississippi law, a decision that could result in an overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortion.

When Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law what was then known as Senate Bill 8 on Sept. 1, it became illegal to perform abortions when the fetus is showing cardiac activity, around six weeks into a pregnancy.

But the law came with a unique enforcement feature. It relies not on the government to enforce the legal restrictions, but citizen lawsuits against providers and anyone who helps someone access an abortion. As a result, physicians and clinics now face costly legal battles if anyone believes they have violated the restrictions and performed an abortion beyond that period of about six weeks.

Many physicians have already dropped out of abortion care networks, providers say, or reduced the level of care they can give desperate patients because of the threat posed by these lawsuits.

Also, abortion providers have seen a significant drop in the number of women they are able to serve under the new restrictions, and there are fewer calls for those services as well.

Patient numbers for the four Whole Woman’s Health clinics in Texas have dropped by about two-thirds since the restrictions were put in place, Hagstrom Miller said.

Texas has fewer than two dozen abortion clinics, but there are individual providers who perform them at other types of medical facilities or at private practices. All of them are affected by the new law.

The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is the only member-supported, digital-first, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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