AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – A federal appeals court dealt Texas abortion providers another blow Thursday when it refused to reconsider its previous ruling that upheld one part of tough restrictions that altogether have closed most abortion facilities in the nation’s second most-populous state.
Providers have been challenging Republican-backed efforts passed in 2013 to roll back access to abortion in Texas. They had asked the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review a three-judge panel’s March ruling that upheld requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and restrictions on medically induced abortions.
The traditionally conservative court refused that request Thursday, allowing the previous decision to stand and drawing a sharp rebuke from abortion providers.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which sued to block the restrictions, said Texas law will drive women seeking abortions to rely on “unsafe and unregulated options.”
“This is a threat to the well-being of millions of women, and an affront to the promise of equal rights and legal protection for all Americans,” Northrup said.
Thursday’s 12-3 decision to reconsider affects just one of two challenges to the Texas law. A separate case pending before the same appeals court focuses on another part of the measure that requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.
Abortion rights groups earlier this week asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and put the rules on hold while the appeals are still pending. They argue the law has shuttered most abortion facilities, leaving none along the Texas-Mexico border or outside any of the state’s largest urban areas.
That would leave nearly 1 million Texas women more than a 3-hour drive from the nearest abortion provider, said Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes.
Attorneys for the state have denied that Texas women would be burdened by fewer abortion facilities, saying nearly nine in 10 would still live within 150 miles of a provider.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor, has been leading the state’s fight to enforce the law. In a filing with the Supreme Court on Thursday, his office called traveling long distances to clinics “an inconvenience, but still a manageable one.”
Democrat Wendy Davis launched her campaign for governor behind the celebrity she achieved through a nearly 13-hour filibuster last summer that temporarily blocked the law in the state Senate.
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