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Appeals court upholds Texas abortion restrictions
A federal appeals court upheld tough new abortion restrictions in Texas, of a law that imposes some of the nation's strictest limitations on the procedure. The law, which was overwhelmingly approved last summer by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature, has helped force numerous clinics to close.
A lower court judge initially ruled that parts of the law were unconstitutional and served no medical purpose, but the 5th Circuit allowed some regulations to remain in effect while it mulled the appeal. On Thursday, the appeals court ruled that the law "on its face does not impose an undue burden on the life and health of a woman."
The case, however, will likely end up at the U.S. Supreme Court. Restrictions already in effect require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and place strict limits on physicians prescribing abortion-inducing pills. But other facets of the omnibus law won't take effect this fall, meaning some of the 24 abortion clinics still open in Texas — a state of 26 million people — also could close. So far, the regulations have helped force at least 19 clinics to close statewide.
Planned Parenthood had filed the lawsuit seeking to block part of the law. On Thursday, the organization said the appeals ruling meant that "safe and legal abortion will continue to be virtually impossible for thousands of Texas women to access."
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican running for governor who defended the law in court, cheered Thursday's ruling from the panel of 5th Circuit judges.
"This unanimous decision is a vindication of the careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women," Abbott said.
In passing the restrictions, state lawmakers argued they were protecting women's health. But critics called the measures an attempt to effectively ban abortion in Texas through overregulation. Law opponents argued that many abortion doctors didn't have admitting privileges and that limiting when and where they could prescribe abortion-inducing pills would discourage women from choosing that option.
Other aspects of the new rules, including a requirement that all procedures take place in a surgical facility, are set to begin in September. Those elements also may be challenged in court.
The U.S. Supreme Court's four liberal justices already have indicated they are inclined to hear an appeal of the case. In November, the four dissented from the high court ruling that upheld the 5th Circuit's decision to allow Texas to enforce the law while the appeal was pending.
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