Federal court rules TX abortion restrictions remain in place during appeals process

November 1, 2013
Lenell Ripley, second from left, cries as she demonstrates with other abortion rights supporters outside the Capitol auditorium in Austin, Texas, Thursday July 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner)
Lenell Ripley, second from left, cries as she demonstrates with other abortion rights supporters outside the Capitol auditorium in Austin, Texas, Thursday July 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner)

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that new abortion restrictions in Texas will remain in effect -- despite being struck down as unconstitutional Monday -- during the appeals process.

Eleven abortion clinics and three doctors in Texas had challenged two aspects of the new law -- one requiring that abortion doctors must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic and another that all abortions must take place in surgical centers, rather than allowing women to take abortion drugs at home.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed an emergency request to stay the ruling while the case was on appeal to the 5th Circuit; the court granted the motion.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) hailed Thursday's decision in a statement, saying, “Today's decision affirms our right to protect both the unborn and the health of the women of Texas. We will continue doing everything we can to protect a culture of life in our state.”

In his ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel permanently blocked the admitting privileges standard as imposing an undue burden on women, while ruling the requirement that a woman take two doses of medication to terminate a pregnancy under a doctor’s supervision on two different days is unconstitutional "where a physician determines, in appropriate medical judgment, such a procedure is necessary for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”

Yeakel enjoined the provisions in those instances, meaning a doctor could determine that a patient could undergo a medication abortion at home rather than in a doctor’s office.

Opponents of the law said the appeals court's ruling to allow the restrictions on admitting privileges to stand will cause at least one-third of the state's licensed abortion providers to stop offering the procedure immediately.

In an interview Thursday night Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, called the decision "devastating, and if it’s allowed to stand it will have terrible consequences for women in Texas. We will continue to try to do anything we can to ensure that women in Texas can get the health care they need."

Amiri -- one of the team of lawyers challenging to the law, said the plaintiffs were considering a few options -- including appealing to the Supreme Court.

Christian groups said the ruling will save lives.

"Beginning today, nearly one-third of abortion clinics in Texas cannot legally perform abortions," said Ashley McGuire of the Catholic Association. "Whether the law will continue to weather the courts, time will tell, but in the meantime - countless lives will be saved and the health of many women will be protected."

Judges in four other states — Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wisconsin — have issued either preliminary injunctions or temporary restraining orders blocking admitting-privilege requirements, but Yeakel's was the first permanent injunction in such a case.

Originally posted at 9:57 p.m. Thursday. This post has been updated.

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Aaron Blake | November 1, 2013