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Federal Court Mulling Delay Of Texas Abortion Law

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AUSTIN (CBSDW.COM/AP) — The Texas attorney general’s office defended strict new state limits on abortion Monday by arguing at a court hearing that they seek to expressly protect “fetal life,” not just the safety of women terminating pregnancies.

In urging a federal judge not to delay enforcement of the law, Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell said abortion rights activists are wrong that it only was passed to make undergoing an abortion safer. He said it “also served to advance the state’s interest in protecting fetal life.”

That’s an important distinction because, while the law’s authors have long said they’d like to ban abortion completely statewide, they also insisted the issue was the safety of Texas women — not only ideological or religious objections to abortion.

Planned Parenthood and other advocacy groups have sued to block key portions of the law, which threw the Legislature into chaos before it was approved this summer. Beginning October 29, it requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges within 30 miles of the clinic, that they follow strict instructions for pill-induced medical abortions and only perform abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy if health of the mother is in danger or the fetus is not viable.

During the first Legislative Special Session Fort Worth Senator Wendy Davis laced up pink tennis shoes and attempted a 13-hour filibuster on what was then Senate Bill 5. Despite the filibuster and massive protests on both sides of the issue at the state Capitol, the law passed.. Activists now want Austin-based U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel to delay enforcement of the admitting privileges rule and medical-abortion restrictions.

Federal judges in other states have found problems with similar provisions. If Yeakel imposes an injunction, though, Attorney General Greg Abbott — a candidate for governor — will appeal that decision to the conservative New Orleans-based court.

“The abortion issue is a big issue in this country and it’s a divisive issue,” Yeakel said. But he added that he’s only interested if Texas’ new law is constitutional: “This court is not to rule on whether women should be allowed to have abortions … or my personal beliefs.”

Starting next October, the law requires all abortions take place in an ambulatory surgical center — a mandate that could leave only a handful of clinics open in the nation’s second most populous state. But that portion has yet to be challenged legally since it won’t come begin until 2014.

Mitchell said statute “allows the state to impose such restrictions as long as it does not impose on the health of the patient” and that those suing have no evidence it will adversely affect women getting abortions.

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood offered no opening statement but called witnesses they said can show how the admitting privileges and new rules on medical abortion are harmful to women and could force many clinics around the state to close.

Dr. Paul Fine, medical director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, was asked on the stand if admitting privileges and medical abortion provisions were medically necessary. “Absolutely not,” he replied.

“I believe that both of these provisions will harm women,” he said, later telling the packed courtroom: “It’s turning back the clock two decades.”

Fine said limits on pill-induced abortions would require physicians to more closely adhere to instructions on using medications that came out in 2000 — rather than best-practices perfected by doctors in the years since. He said doing so would increase the risk of some patients needing surgery to correct complications from the medically induced abortions by nearly 8 percent.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood has argued that abortion clinics in Fort Worth, Harlingen, Killeen, Lubbock, McAllen and Waco will all have to close due to the admitting privileges requirement — and Fine said no abortion clinics would be left operating west of Interstate 35.

“Women will be driving six to eight hours,” he said.

Fine also said hospital medical boards can choose who to extend admitting privileges to and may deny them to doctors who perform abortions on ideological grounds.

He added that many doctors don’t like to tell many people they perform abortions for fear they could be targeted for violence by activists — but Fine said the risk was worth it because he saw what women went through before the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision legalized abortion.

“I remember women coming in with a coat hanger,” he said. “Deaths were common and tragic, and I’ll never forget the look in these women’s eyes.”

Under cross examination, however, Fine said he had no direct knowledge of what clinics would be forced to because of the new law.

Asked how many abortions he performed last year alone, Fine answered “probably several hundred.”

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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