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Federal judge blocks key parts of Tex. antiabortion law Monday

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, Tex., on July 18, 2013. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

A federal judge in Texas blocked two key parts of the state’s controversial antiabortion law Monday, ruling that one part is unconstitutional while another provision imposes an undue burden on women in some instances.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel represents a legal victory for abortion rights providers, who had challenged new requirements that abortion doctors must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic and that all abortions must take place in surgical centers, rather than allowing women to take abortion drugs at home.

Texas attorney general Greg Abbott spokeswoman Lauren Bean said the state immediately appealed the ruling.

Eleven abortion clinics and three doctors filed a federal lawsuit last month saying that the requirements, which were due to take effect Oct. 29, would end abortion services in more than a third of the state’s licensed facilities and would eliminate services altogether in Fort Worth and five other major cities. Abbott had argued the new restrictions, adopted this summer, were aimed at providing better medical protections for both women and their fetuses.

The provision requiring doctors to obtain hospital admitting privileges "does not bear a rational relationship to the legitimate right of the State in preserving and promoting fetal life or a woman's health and, in any event, places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus and is thus an undue burden to her," Yeakel wrote.

Judges in four other states — Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wisconsin — have issued preliminary injunctions blocking admitting privilege requirements, but Yeakel issued a permanent injunction in his decision.

On the question of whether women should be required to take both doses of medication to terminate a pregnancy under a doctor's supervision, the judge issued a more limited injunction, ruling that while these provisions  "do not generally place an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion, they do if they ban a medication abortion 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.

"The women in Texas have had a huge victory today," said Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union and a member of the trial team, in an interview. On the question of medication abortions, Amiri said the plaintiffs were still "assessing our decision about next steps after assessing what the court has said."

In a statement, Abbott spokeswoman Lauren Bean said "we appreciate the trial court’s attention in this matter," but made it clear Yeakel would not have the last word on the matter.

"As everyone – including the trial court judge – has acknowledged, this is a matter that will ultimately be resolved by the appellate courts or the U.S. Supreme Court," Bean said.

Lila Rose, president of the anti-abortion group Live Action said the ruling represented the latest example of an "activist judge" barring "an elected state legislature from enforcing life-saving provisions for women. This contempt for women's safety among our judiciary has become a devastating trend."

"It's time for judges like Lee Yeakel to stop protecting the abortion industry's bottom line and remember what really counts: the safety of mothers and their babies," Rose said.

The lawsuit did not challenge another provision in the law banning abortions after 20 weeks, which enjoys broader public support than other abortion restrictions. That restriction is under litigation in federal court in Arizona and state court in Georgia.

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.

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