Judge Topples Abortion Restrictions in Texas

     AUSTIN (CN) – A federal judge on Monday barred Texas from implementing one of two challenged provisions of an anti-abortion law set to take effect Tuesday.
     Texas House Bill 2, which Gov. Rick Perry signed into law this summer, bans abortions after 20 weeks, requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, imposes a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug regimen for medication-induced abortions and requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards of ambulatory medical centers.
     Planned Parenthood and several affiliated health clinics sued Texas officials on Sept. 26 to block implementation of the admitting privileges mandate and the medication abortion restriction. Both are unconstitutional, according to their complaint.
     Perry signed the bill in what he says will be his final term as governor. Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis attracted national attention in June for her 11-hour filibuster to block a Senate version of the bill. She declared her candidacy for Texas governor earlier this month.
     After a three-day trial, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel found that “admitting privileges have no rational relationship to improved patient care” and “do not rationally relate to the state’s legitimate interest in protecting the unborn.”
     He said the provision places an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions.
     “By requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges, the evidence is that there will be abortion clinics that will close,” Yeakel wrote. “The record reflects that 24 counties in the Rio Grande Valley would be left with no abortion provider because those providers do not have admitting privileges and are unlikely to get them.”
     Yeakel upheld the second provision, however, which requires providers of drug-induced abortions to follow a regimen approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000. The FDA protocol for one such drug limits its use to the first 49 days of the user’s last menstrual period.
     Yeakel said the provision “may not be enforced against any physician who determines, in appropriate medical judgment, to perform a medication-abortion using the off-label protocol for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”
     Louise Melling, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, applauded Yeakel for blocking the admitting privileges provision.
     “The court was right to strike the admitting privileges provision,” Melling said in a statement. “It is unconstitutional and it would have shut down women’s health centers throughout the state.”
     She added: “We are disappointed by the ruling on the medication abortion restriction, which ignores accepted medical practice and will force providers to use less safe methods. But we will continue to fight and explore every option to protect women’s health.”
     State officials promptly appealed to the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit on Monday.
     Perry said the decision “will not stop our ongoing efforts to protect life and ensure the women of our state aren’t exposed to any more of the abortion-mill horror stories that have made headlines recently.”
     “We will continue fighting to implement the laws passed by the duly-elected officials of our state, laws that reflect the will and values of Texans,” the governor said in a statement.

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