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Federal judge strikes down part of new Texas abortion law
Catholic News Service

AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge voided one section of Texas' new abortion law that was scheduled to take effect Oct. 29.

Judge Lee Yeakel of the U.S. District Court in Austin ruled Oct. 28 that the admitting-privileges provision of the new law was unconstitutional.

The law required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Yeakel decided otherwise, saying it would unreasonably limit a woman's access to abortion. The provision, he said in his ruling, "is without a rational basis and places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus."

"We were disappointed in part of his ruling," said Jeff Patterson, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference, in an Oct. 29 telephone interview with Catholic News Service.

"But the one thing I think the Catholic bishops would want to underscore to people is that most of the bill that was passed by the Legislature was upheld," Patterson said.

Yeakel upheld a second provision that requires doctors to use a particular drug protocol in nonsurgical, medication-induced abortions.

The Texas law requires doctors to use a protocol approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000, which approved the use of higher doses of the medication through the seventh week of pregnancy. Yeakel ruled that requiring the protocol did not pose an unconstitutional obstacle, except in cases where the new regimen appeared necessary to save the life or health of the mother.

The suit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood and the owners of abortion clinics in Texas, did not challenge a ban on nearly all abortions starting at 20 weeks after conception. The ban took effect Oct. 29.

Also not challenged in the suit was a provision that all abortion clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgery centers. The provision does not take effect until next September.

"Planned Parenthood and the pro-abortion community were quick to say it was a huge overturning of the law when it was nothing of the sort," Patterson told CNS.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the state would appeal the decision. Yeakel, in his ruling, said the ultimate decision on the bill would not be reached by him, but "by either the (Fifth U.S.) Circuit (Court of Appeals in New Orleans) or the Supreme Court of the United States."

Had the admitting-privileges provision been ruled constitutional, it was estimated that up to 12 of Texas' 36 abortion clinics would have had to close.

Admitting-privileges provisions had been blocked earlier by courts in Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

The drug-protocol provision is still legal in Ohio, but it was thrown out by courts in North Dakota and Oklahoma.

The 20-weeks requirement has been adopted in 12 states, but it was rejected by the court in the three states where it was subject to a legal challenge.

The abortion issue in Texas drew national and international attention in July.

When a bill to toughen abortion regulations failed to gain traction during the regular session as lawmakers focused on the state budget and other matters, Perry decided to add abortion to his call for a special session that began hours after the regular session adjourned.

After a series of delays allowed Democratic State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth to filibuster in the waning hours of the session, the abortion measure died despite clear majority support. Perry called a second special session and again added abortion restrictions as an agenda item. It passed and the governor signed it into law July 17.

Opponents of the law quickly challenged it by filing a lawsuit.

During the first special legislative sessions, the filibuster by Davis got the attention of pro-life supporters and brought them out to the Capitol in large numbers for the second special session.

Marie Seale, director of the Diocese of Austin's Office of Pro-Life Activities and Chaste Living, said in an interview at the time that "people were wildly upset about what Wendy Davis did to legislation in the first special session. When pro-lifers saw the vote being taken from them, they riled up."

She told the Catholic Spirit, Austin's diocesan newspaper: "This is our faith in action. I'm in awe and praying it doesn't end."

In Oklahoma, the state Supreme Court said Oct. 29 that the drug-protocol provision in that state's abortion law "effectively bans all medication abortions" and therefore is unconstitutional. Last December, it upheld a lower court's ruling that tossed out the protocol provision as unconstitutional for creating an "undue burden" on a woman's ability to obtain an abortion.

State officials had sought a review of the case by the U.S. Supreme Court, which it agreed to do, but not before the Oklahoma Supreme Court gave the justices clarification of what the Oklahoma law specifically prohibits. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has the court's answer -- that the provision is too broad to stand -- it might decide not to review the case.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said the state Supreme Court again misinterpreted the aim of the provision, which he said is to protect Oklahoma women from "harmful outcomes" that could result from off-label uses of abortion drugs.

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