Judge Rules Against Part Of Texas Abortion Law

Oct 29, 2013
Originally published on October 30, 2013 7:49 am



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And I'm Renee Montagne, good morning.

In Texas, a federal judge has struck down a key provision of that state's new abortion law one day before it was to go into effect. The judge blocked a regulation requiring that abortion doctors to be connected to nearby hospital with admitting privileges. Still, he agreed with the state about a change to the way doctors administer non-surgical medical abortions.

NPR's Kathy Lohr has more.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Judge Lee Yeakel threw out the part of the law that requires doctors to get admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. He said the provision is, quote, "without a rational basis and that it places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking abortions."

BRIGITTE AMIRI: We're absolutely thrilled with this victory for women in Texas.

LOHR: Brigitte Amiri is an attorney with the ACLU, one of the groups that challenged the Texas law, which she says does not make abortions safer.

AMIRI: We presented a lot of evidence to show that there was no medical need for abortion providers to have admitting privileges. We also showed that over 22,000 women in Texas would be unable to get an abortion if the admitting privileges provision was allowed to take effect.

LOHR: Abortion rights activists say about a dozen clinics would have shut down today if the restriction had not been blocked. Similar laws requiring admitting privileges have passed in Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wisconsin. And those laws are also on hold as they make their way through the courts. While other judges have temporarily blocked laws, this is the first judge to find the provision unconstitutional.

ERIC FERRERO: What it means is that providers won't have to start shutting down this week.

LOHR: Eric Ferrero is a spokesman for Planned Parenthood which operates 10 clinics in Texas.

On another issue, the judge did restrict the use and procedures for medical abortions including RU-486. The state and some abortion opponents say medical abortions should follow an FDA protocol issued more than a decade ago. But Ferrero says that procedure is outdated and is not in the best interest of patients.

FERRERO: It limits medication abortion based on the stage of pregnancy that you're at, and requires you to come in for more visits when you're getting a medication abortion, which is not medically necessary.

LOHR: But Texas Representative Jody Laubenberg, who sponsored the measure, says doctors should follow FDA procedures. And she says most of the law will move forward.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE JODY LAUBENBERG, REPUBLICAN: I am delighted that only one part of the bill was, you know, put on hold by the judge. We'll take it to the next step. And to me, I'm not disappointed at all.

LOHR: Laubenberg says she had hoped abortion rights activists would not challenge the law. But she says the state is ready to take on the fight.

REPUBLICAN: Even the trial judge said this decision is going to be decided at a much higher level, possibly the U.S. Supreme Court.

LOHR: After yesterday's ruling, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately filed an emergency appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. In a statement, GOP Governor Rick Perry, who backed the legislation in two special sessions, said the decision would, quote, "not stop the state's ongoing efforts to protect life."

Two other sections of the Texas law were not challenged in court. One bans abortions at 20 weeks. That was enacted in a dozen states and some legal challenges have been filed.

The other requires clinics to meet hospital-like building standards. Only a handful of Texas clinics are now able to comply. The rule is set to take effect next September. Abortion rights activists say they're studying both provisions, evaluating their options, and could still file another legal challenge.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.