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Texas abortion limits blocked

| Monday, Oct. 28, 2013, 7:27 p.m.

AUSTIN — A federal judge on Monday barred Texas from enforcing two key provisions of abortion restrictions that were to take effect on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel found that a provision requiring abortion doctors to gain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital “does not bear a rational relationship to the legitimate right of the state in preserving and promoting fetal life or a woman's health.”

Yeakel barred Texas from enforcing a provision regulating the dispensing of abortion-inducing drugs for “women for whom surgical abortion is, in the sound medical opinion of their treating physician, a significant health risk.” However, he allowed other parts of the provision, including a requirement for one extra office visit, to stand.

According to testimony presented in a trial last week before Yeakel, requiring abortion doctors to get admitting privileges in a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic would force 13 of the state's 32 abortion facilities to close on Tuesday.

Doctors had difficulty meeting hospital requirements for privileges, which vary between facilities but often require doctors to live in the community, admit a minimum number of patients per year or be board certified in an area of specialization.

Many abortion doctors travel to several clinics or do not have practices designed to divert patients to the hospital, witnesses told Yeakel. The doctors tend to be at or near retirement and lack board certification, which had not been necessary or available for their practices, abortion providers testified.

In his ruling, Yeakel said the rule “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.”

Gov. Rick Perry said state officials will continue efforts to enact HB 2.

The case will head to federal appeals court, where abortion-related Texas laws have recently prevailed:

•In August 2012, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas could expel Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program, which provides health and contraceptive care for low-income Texans.

The New Orleans-based appeals court overturned an injunction issued by Yeakel, who had found that the regulations violated Planned Parenthood's rights of free speech and association.

• The court ruled in January 2012 that Texas can require a pre-abortion sonogram in hopes that the information it provides would dissuade some women from getting an abortion.

The ruling overturned an injunction from U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks of Austin, who had found that the law violated the First Amendment by improperly requiring doctors and patients to engage in government-mandated speech.

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