A federal appeals court ruled late Thursday that Texas’ abortion restrictions could immediately go into effect, overruling a Monday order from a lower court that found parts of the law unconstitutional. The decision, made by a panel of three judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, may close the doors of one-third of Texas abortion clinics, many which will likely be unable to meet the requirement of admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Of course, that was the point of the law.
The court ruled that the admitting-privileges provision may go into effect, arguing that it has a valid medical purpose of protecting patient safety.
“Today’s decision affirms our right to protect both the unborn and the health of the women of Texas,” said Governor Perry in a statement responding to the ruling. “We will continue doing everything we can to protect a culture of life in our state.”
The opinion, written by Judge Priscilla Owen–a well-known opponent of abortion rights–for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, dismissed the district court judge’s finding that setting up medically unnecessary requirements would constitute an “undue burden.” That is the Supreme Court’s upper limit for how much a state can stand in the way of a woman seeking an abortion. Owen found the evidence presented by the state to be persuasive.
The higher court also found an exception for women’s health in the medication abortion restrictions to be overly broad. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel left in place the law’s provision requiring women to take an outdated protocol of pills inducing abortion, available in a narrower time window, but said a doctor should be able to determine when a woman’s health makes surgery dangerous.
The state had complained that such an exception was “vague and amorphous.” Owen wrote that the exception for women’s health was “broader than necessary.”
A full hearing of the case is set for January. The full law goes into effect immediately.
“Today’s decision is a disappointing failure to protect the constitutional rights of women in Texas, who now face a health crisis of catastrophic proportions,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which helped bring the case.
“The result of this ruling is not academic,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “Women in many parts of the state will lose access to care they count on because clinics will close. If the State of Texas cares about women’s health and safety, as it claims, it should take steps to reduce the need for abortion rather than closing clinics in already underserved parts of the state.”
NBC News contributed to this report.