Advocates want US Supreme Court to block Texas law

People protest in front of the Whole Women's Health clinic Saturday, Oct/ 4, 2014 in McAllen, Texas.
People protest in front of the Whole Women's Health clinic . Oct/ 4, 2014 in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/The Monitor, Joel Martinez)

AUSTIN (AP) — Abortion providers on Monday asked the Supreme Court to block a lower federal court ruling that allowed Texas to enforce tough restrictions effectively closing all but seven abortion facilities in America’s second most-populous state.

The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, representing Texas physicians and women’s health care providers, filed a 50-plus page emergency application with the high court Monday. It argued that “no credible evidence suggests that the challenged requirements would enhance the safety of abortion procedures.”

The center is seeking to reinstate — until all appeals are exhausted — an injunction imposed earlier by a lower court judge against the sweeping law overwhelmingly approved by the GOP-controlled state Legislature in 2013.

In August, Austin-based U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel blocked a provision of the law requiring clinics to pay for hospital-level upgrades. He ruled that those rules were less about safety than making access to abortion difficult.

But last week, a U.S. 5th Circuit Court panel in New Orleans stayed Yeakel’s ruling.

In a statement Monday, the Center for Reproductive Rights said the 5th Circuit ruling “has nearly 1 million Texas women facing a minimum of a 300 mile roundtrip to access their constitutional right to an abortion.”

“There can be no question that just a handful of clinics left to offer safe, legal abortion care to all women across the vast state of Texas is a dire emergency in need of an immediate response,” said Nancy Northup, the group’s president and CEO.

Texas had more than 40 abortion facilities as recently as two years ago. But many clinics have already closed under a part of the law requiring doctors who perform abortions to obtain hospital admitting privileges, and last week’s decision would shutter more than a dozen more.

The impact stands to be felt most along the Texas-Mexico border and in the western half of the state, where access to a legal abortion is especially limited. The only abortion clinic in McAllen, which reopened after the lower court’s ruling, is expected to close again. That leaves women in the Rio Grande Valley facing a 300-mile drive to the next-nearest abortion facility.

Under the entire scope of the law, only seven abortion facilities in Texas meet the requirements. All those facilities are concentrated around the major cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth.

Attorneys for Texas have denied that women would be burdened by fewer abortion facilities, saying nearly 9 in 10 women statewide would still live within 150 miles of a provider.

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