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A temporary victory for Texas abortion access

A federal district court says two parts of a law that would have decimated abortion access in Texas are unconstitutional. But the fight isn't over.
Abortion rights supporters rally on the floor of the State Capitol rotunda in Austin, Texas, July 12, 2013.
Abortion rights supporters rally on the floor of the State Capitol rotunda in Austin, Texas, July 12, 2013.

A federal district court judge in Austin ruled Friday that a law that would have required abortion clinics to convert to mini-hospitals violated women's constitutional rights, keeping open the majority of Texas's remaining abortion clinics for now. No more than eight clinics providing abortion in Texas would have been able to comply with the provision of the law had it gone into effect on September 1. 

"The practical impact on Texas women due to the clinics' closure statewide would operate for a significant number of women in Texas just as drastically as a complete ban on abortion," Judge Lee Yeakel wrote. 

But it is only the opening act of a fight that is expected to head to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals before the law is scheduled to take effect on Monday. The Attorney General of Texas immediately said the state would appeal the decision. 

Yeakel also ruled Friday that a separate provision of the same law, requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, was unconstitutional as applied to two clinics in McAllen and El Paso. Those clinics, like over a dozen others, closed in the months since the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court allowed the admitting privileges provision to take effect in November. 

The state of Texas has claimed that the law -- the same one filibustered by Wendy Davis last June -- protects women's health. The judge rejected that argument. 

“The court has made clear that women’s well-being is not advanced by laws attacking access to essential health care, and that rights protected by the U.S. Constitution may not be denied through laws that make them impossible to exercise," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Texas women still face serious threats to their rights, health, and ability to obtain safe, high-quality reproductive health care from reputable doctors in their communities.