(AP)--Tough new Texas abortion restrictions are on hold after a federal judge
found Republican-led efforts to hold abortion clinics to hospital-level
operating standards unconstitutional in a ruling that spares more than a
dozen clinics from imminent closure.
The state vowed to quickly appeal Friday's ruling by U.S. District Judge
Lee Yeakel in Austin, who cited other rules GOP lawmakers have recently
passed in his decision to throw out requirements that clinics meet
hospital operating standards.
Those prior abortion restrictions include mandatory sonograms and a
24-hour waiting period after a woman first seeks out an abortion.
"These substantial obstacles have reached a tipping point," Yeakel wrote in a 21-page opinion.
Yeakel sided with clinics that sued over one of the most disputed
measures of a sweeping anti-abortion bill signed by Republican Gov. Rick
Perry in 2013. The ruling stops new clinic requirements that would have
left seven abortion facilities in Texas come Monday, when the law was
set to take effect.
Texas currently has 19 abortion providers — already down from more than
40 just two years ago, according to groups that sued the state for the
second time over the law known as HB2.
The ruling blocks a portion of the that law would have required abortion
facilities in Texas to have operating rooms, air filtration systems and
other costly additions that are typically only mandated in surgical
"I am truly disappointed in today's ruling that undermines a concerted
effort to improve health care for women in Texas by raising the standard
of care in abortion clinics," Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said.
Yeakel, however, concluded the intent was only to "close existing licensed abortion clinics."
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who is the favorite to
become governor next year, said he would seek an immediate appeal to try
to preserve the new clinic rules.
Clinics called the measures a backdoor effort to outlaw abortions, which
has been a constitutional right since the Roe v. Wade ruling by the
U.S. Supreme Court in 1973.
Under the new restrictions, the only remaining abortion facilities in
Texas would have been in major cities, and there would have been none in
the entire western half of the nation's second-largest state. For women
in El Paso, the closest abortion provider would be in New Mexico — an
option the state wanted Yeakel to take into consideration, even though
New Mexico's rules for abortion clinics are far less rigorous.
"The evidence has been stacking up against the state and against the
politicians who so cynically passed these laws in the name of safety,"
said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman's Health, which would have
been among the clinic operators affected.
Miller said that she will now seek to re-open a clinic in the Rio Grande
Valley as soon as the weekend. The clinic closed in March, leaving the
nearest abortion provider more than 200 miles away in San Antonio.
Some clinics in Texas already stopped offering abortions after another
part of the 2013 bill required doctors to have admitting privileges at
nearby hospitals. That part of the law has been upheld by the 5th U.S.
Circuit Court in New Orleans, where the state will now seek a second
"The State disagrees with the court's ruling and will seek immediate
relief from the Fifth Circuit, which has already upheld HB2 once,"
Abbott spokeswoman Lauren Bean said.
Similar rules on admitting privileges have been blocked by federal courts in Mississippi, Kansas and Wisconsin.
Attorneys for the state denied that women would be burdened by fewer
abortion facilities, saying nearly 9 in 10 women in Texas would still
live within 150 miles of a provider. Critics say that still leaves
nearly a million Texas women embarking on drives longer than three hours
to get an abortion.
Opposition to the Texas law was so visible that Democrat Wendy Davis
launched her campaign for governor behind the celebrity she achieved
through a nearly 13-hour filibuster last summer that temporarily blocked
the bill in the state Senate.
Her opponent in November is Abbott.
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