AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A federal judge has determined that new Texas abortion restrictions violate the U.S. Constitution, a ruling that keeps open - at least for now - dozens of abortion clinics that were set to halt operations Tuesday had key parts of the law taken effect.
In a decision released Monday that the state is certain to appeal, District Judge Lee Yeakel wrote that the regulations requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital creates an undue obstacle to women seeking an abortion.
"The admitting-privileges provision of House Bill 2 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," he wrote.
While Yeakel found that the state could regulate how a doctor prescribes an abortion-inducing pill, he said the law did not allow for a doctor to adjust treatment taken in order to best protect the health of the woman taking it. Therefore he blocked the provision requiring doctors to follow U.S. Food and Drug Administration protocol for the pills in all instances.
"The medication abortion provision may not be enforced against any physician who determines, in appropriate medical judgment, to perform the medication-abortion using off-label protocol for the preservation of the life or health of the mother," Yeakel, appointed by President George W. Bush, wrote.
Lawyers for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers that brought the lawsuit had argued the requirement that doctors have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic would force the closure of a third of the clinics in Texas. They also complained that requiring doctors to follow the FDA's original label for an abortion-inducing drug would deny women the benefit of recent advances in medical science.
Other portions of the law, known as House Bill 2, include a ban on abortions after 20 weeks and a requirement beginning in October 2014 that all abortions take place in a surgical facility. Neither of those sections was part of this lawsuit.
The Texas attorney general's office had argued that the law protects women and the life of the fetus. Attorney General Greg Abbott was expected to file an emergency appeal of Yeakel's order to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.