AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A federal judge determined Monday that new Texas abortion restrictions place an unconstitutional burden on women seeking to end a pregnancy, a ruling that keeps open dozens of abortion clinics across the state while officials appeal.
The ruling by District Judge Lee Yeakel came one day before key parts of the law the Legislature approved in July were set to take effect. Lawyers for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers argued in their lawsuit that a provision requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital less than 30 miles away would have effectively shuttered about a third of the state's 38 clinics that perform abortions.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office argued the law protects women and the life of the fetus, immediately filed an appeal with the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
"I have no doubt that this case is going all the way to the United States Supreme Court," Abbott said during stop in Brownsville, Texas, as part of his campaign to replace retiring Gov. Rick Perry.
Although several conservative states in recent months have approved broad abortion limits, the Texas ones were particularly divisive because of the number of clinics affected and the distance some women would have to travel to get an abortion.
Federal judges in Wisconsin, Kansas, Mississippi and Alabama also have found problems with state laws prohibiting doctors from conducting abortions if they don't have hospital admitting privileges.
All the other appeals — including the one from Mississippi, which like Texas is within the 5th Circuit — deal only with whether to lift a temporary injunction preventing the restriction from taking effect. The Texas appeal could be the first that directly addresses the question of whether the provision violates the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion.
The admitting privileges provision "does not bear a rational relationship to the legitimate right of the state in preserving and promoting fetal life or a woman's health and, in any event, places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion," Yeakel wrote.
In another part of his ruling, Yeakel, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, partially blocked the provision requiring doctors to follow an 18-year-old U.S. Food and Drug Administration protocol. He found that the state could regulate how a doctor prescribes an abortion-inducing pill, but the law failed to allow for a doctor to adjust treatment in order to best protect the health of the woman taking it.
Abortion-rights supporters complained that requiring doctors to follow the FDA's original label for an abortion-inducing drug would deny women the benefit of recent advances in medical science.
Other portions of the law, known as House Bill 2, include a ban on abortions after 20 weeks and a requirement beginning in October 2014 that all abortions take place in a surgical facility. Neither of those sections was part of this lawsuit.
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