US & Canada

Texas judge blocks abortion restrictions

Protesters line the floors of the rotunda at the State Capitol building during a protest before the start of a special session of the Legislature in Austin, Texas 1 July 2013
Image caption Both advocates for and against the new restrictions packed the Texas state capitol in July as the bill was passed

A Texas judge has said abortion restrictions passed by the state's legislature are unconstitutional.

District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the new regulations violated doctors' rights and unreasonably restricted women's access to abortion clinics.

Judge Yeakel's order means the law will not come into effect on Tuesday.

The bill was signed into law in July despite an 11-hour delaying speech by state senator Wendy Davis, who is running to become Texas governor.

The law was among the most restrictive in the US, banning abortions at the 20th week of pregnancy and requiring doctors to perform abortions at special surgical facilities.

The office for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has argued that the law protects women and the life of the foetus by improving healthcare.

Mr Abbott, Ms Davis' likely opponent for the state's top job, is expected to file an emergency appeal to the federal regional appeals court in New Orleans.

Ms Davis' marathon speech, known as a filibuster, prevented Republicans in the legislature from passing the bill during the end of a June legislative session.

Governor Rick Perry ordered a new session in July, in which the bill was passed.

The subsequent lawsuit was brought by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers in the state.

They argued that the law's requirement for doctors to have an admissions agreement with a local hospital within 30 miles (48km) of their clinic would force the closure of many providers.

In a trial before Judge Yeakel's decision, one set of clinics said they had applied for admitting privileges at 32 hospitals, with only 15 accepting the applications and zero announcing a decision.

Tuesday's ruling provides an immediate reprieve for those providers expecting to be shut down on Tuesday.

In his ruling, Judge Yeakel said the provision "places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable foetus and is thus an undue burden to her".

A similar law is working its way through the federal court system in Mississippi.

A federal judge temporarily blocked the measure as a trial on the law's constitutionality is scheduled to take place in March, and an appeals court declined the Mississippi attorney general's request to lift the injunction.

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