World and Nation

Judge blocks major part of Texas abortion law

A federal judge in Texas on Monday blocked an important part of the state’s restrictive new abortion law, which would have required doctors performing the procedure to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

The decision, one day before the provision was to take effect, prevented a major disruption of the abortion clinics in Texas. It was a victory for abortion rights groups and clinics that said the measure served no medical purpose and could force as many as one-third of the state’s 36 abortion clinics to close.

But the court did not strike down a second measure, requiring doctors to use a particular drug protocol in nonsurgical, medication-induced abortions. Doctors have called that protocol outdated and too restrictive.

Judge Lee Yeakel of U.S. District Court in Austin declared that “the act’s admitting-privileges provision is without a rational basis and places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.”

Gov. Rick Perry, who has said he hopes to make abortion “a thing of the past,” signed the legislation in July. It had been temporarily derailed when Wendy Davis, a Democratic state senator, mounted an 11-hour filibuster in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Davis is now running for governor of Texas, with abortion rights as one of her planks.

Texas officials quickly said they would appeal the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in New Orleans, and Yeakel said that “at the end of the day, these issues are going to be decided definitively not by this court, but by either the circuit or the Supreme Court of the United States.”

The ruling was hailed by the chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health, a private group that had warned it could be forced to close its clinics in McAllen, Fort Worth and San Antonio because those clinics use visiting doctors who cannot obtain admitting privileges locally. “We are very relieved,” the CEO, Amy Hagstrom Miller, said.

In bringing the suit against two parts of the sweeping anti-abortion law adopted in July, abortion rights groups said these provisions would have “dramatic and draconian” effects on women’s access to the procedure. But lawyers for the state argued that these predictions were exaggerated and that the measures served the state’s interest in “protecting fetal life.”

Perry responded swiftly to the decision Monday, vowing in a statement to appeal. “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 statement said.

The lawsuit did not challenge two other central provisions of the Texas law — a requirement that all abortion clinics meet the costly standards of ambulatory surgery centers, which does not take effect until September, and a ban on nearly all abortions starting at 20 weeks after conception, which will take effect Tuesday.