US & Canada

US court upholds Texas abortion law

A woman holds a sign outside a Planned Parenthood Clinic in San Antonio, Texas on 29 October 2013
Image caption Protestors picketed outside Texas clinics following overturning of a Texas abortion law on Monday; it was later upheld by an appeals court on Thursday.

A third of Texas abortion clinics can no longer provide the procedure after a federal court allowed new restrictions to take effect in the state.

The Republican-led state legislature passed a law in July requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

Among other restrictions, it limits the use of abortion-inducing drugs.

A Thursday appeals court ruling reversed a lower court decision that the restrictions were unconstitutional.

On Monday, Federal District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the new requirement for doctors performing abortions to have patient-admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (48km) unconstitutionally restricted women's access to abortion.

He barred the state of Texas from enforcing the requirement.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott then filed an emergency appeal against Mr Yeakel's decision.

And on Thursday, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed it, ruling the Texas law could take effect on Friday while an appeal is argued in the coming months.

Mr Abbott, a Republican, is expected to run for governor of Texas against Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who has been an outspoken opponent of the new abortion restrictions.

The legislation also bans abortions at the 20th week of pregnancy and requires doctors to perform abortions at special surgical facilities.

'Far from over'

After the law passed in July, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers in the state sued, arguing the law would force many to close.

In his ruling on Monday, Mr Yeakel found the admitting privileges 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".

In overturning his decision, the court of appeals found the state had provided "a rational basis" for the physician hospital privilege requirement, including offering evidence it "fosters a woman's ability to seek consultation and treatment for complications directly from her physician, not from an emergency room provider".

"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," Mr Abbott said.

Women's health advocates have argued the law will require women in some areas to travel several hours on two days to obtain abortions.

"This restriction clearly violates Texas women's constitutional rights by drastically reducing access to safe and legal abortion state-wide," Planned Parenthood Foundation President Cecile Richards said.

"This fight is far from over."

At one clinic near the Texas-Mexico border on Friday, women who had arrived for an initial consultation for abortions on Saturday were told by an administrator they would not be able to go ahead with the procedure.

The Associated Press reported some women stayed in the hope that something would change.

The clinic's doctor, Dr Lester Minto, said the law's hospital admitting privilege provision prevented him from performing abortions.

He said he feared some of the women might "do drastic things" if he was unable to terminate their pregnancies.

One woman at the clinic told the Associated Press she had already had several children with her husband and the pregnancy was not planned.

"I just can't afford to have another one," the woman said, on condition of anonymity.

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