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A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that Texas is allowed to immediately begin to enforce strict new abortion restrictions that will in effect close all except for seven abortion facilities in the second largest state in the country. The law was signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry last year.
The decision by a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court in New Orleans wipes out what was a fleeting victory for abortion rights groups. A lower court in August ruled the “ambulatory surgical center requirement” unconstitutional, finding it placed an undue burden on women seeking abortions. Texas officials appealed that ruling.
“This is a devastating day for Texas women,” Jennifer Dalven, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “The court’s decision ignores the medical experts, who have recognized that these laws hurt women, not help them.”
On the other hand, supporters of the rulling are obviously in favour of the decision. “This decision is a vindication of the careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office, which is defending the law, said in a statement.
13 clinics whose facilities do not meet the new standards were to be closed overnight, leaving Texas, a state with 5.4 million women of reproductive age that’s ranking second in the country, with eight abortion providers, all in Houston, Austin and two other metropolitan regions. No abortion facilities will be open west or south of San Antonio.
Experts testifying on behalf of abortion providers estimated that it could cost from $1-3.5 million to build or renovate a clinic that meets the same facility standards as an outpatient surgery center, which would include specific ventilation and sterilization systems, blood supplies, and hall and doorway sizes.
Similar legislation has been challenged in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, and the U.S. Supreme Court may have the final word on the validity of the laws. The Texas law, one of more than 200 abortion restrictions adopted nationwide since a Republican-led, state-legislative push began in 2011, was passed in July 2013 after Democratic state Senator Wendy Davis staged a filibuster that made her a national figure and propelled her campaign for governor.