Federal judge strikes down part of Texas' controversial abortion law

acarlson@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 29, 2013 

A piece of the controversial abortion legislation passed this summer in Texas has been struck down by a federal judge, setting up an appeals process that may end with the Supreme Court.

Judge Lee Yeakel of United States District Court in Austin said Monday (one day before it was to go into effect) that the law's admitting privileges provision is unconstitutional. The provision requires any doctor in the state who performs abortions to also have the privilege to admit patients to a hospital within 30 miles of a clinic. It "is without a rational basis and places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus,” Yeakel wrote in his decision.

That partial reversal strikes at the heart of the law's intent, which conservative lawmakers said would improve women's health in the state by holding clinics to higher standards, while detractors said it would, in effect, broadly limit access to abortions, closing as many as a third of the state's clinics.

"I don't see why local hospitals would give privileges to someone who's not going to admit patients," Beth Shapiro, chairwoman of the board of directors of Lubbock's Planned Parenthood Women's Health Center told the AP. "I don't see what the business and financial incentive would be."

State Senator Wendy Davis famously filibustered a vote on the law this summer, speaking for more than 10 hours, ultimately delaying its passage for several weeks as the Senate was forced to reconvene during a special session. The move was largely received as symbolic, as both houses of Texas' legislature are controlled by Republicans, who support the legislation.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has already filed an appeal with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, setting the stage for a possible appearance before the Supreme Court. The Court will have to decide whether regulations such as those in the Texas bill violate the constitutional protections of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision which protects a woman's ability to abort her pregnancy and which prevents an undue burden being placed on that choice — either through sweeping legislation or over time.

"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,” Yeakal said.

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