U.S. Supreme Court blocks Texas abortion restrictions

By Lawrence Hurley
Protesters carry signs during an abortion rights march that originated at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, in this file photo taken July 8, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Stone/Files

Protesters carry signs during an abortion rights march in Austin

Protesters carry signs during an abortion rights march that originated at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, in this file photo taken July 8, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Stone/Files

By Lawrence Hurley WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked certain restrictions on abortion contained in a Texas state law that abortion rights groups said would have forced all but a handful of clinics to shut down in the state of 26 million people. The high court granted a request filed by abortion rights groups that puts on hold parts of a federal appeals court decision that had allowed the law to go into effect. The brief court order said that requirements that clinics have certain hospital-like settings for surgeries could not go into effect pending appeal. The requirement that was to have gone into effect on Sept. 1 would require clinics to meet a set of building standards ranging from widening halls to having facilities for certain surgeries that abortion rights advocates said were unnecessary, especially when an abortion is medically induced. The state argued the requirements in the Texas law would reduce complications and increase patient care. The order also said that a provision that requires abortion practitioners to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of the clinic could not be enforced for clinics in McAllen and El Paso, cities near the Mexican border. The provision will be in force in the rest of the state. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in August struck down the requirement for these two cities, saying women in those areas would have to travel as much as 500 miles (805 km) to go to an abortion clinic. Abortion rights groups have said the regulations are unnecessary and served as an attempt to shut clinics. Three conservatives on the nine-justice high court, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, said they would have allowed the law to go into effect in full. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said on Oct. 2 that Texas could begin enforcing both requirements. Abortion rights groups have said the measures as a whole would shutter all but seven clinics in the state. "We're seeing the terrible impact these restrictions have on thousands of Texas women who effectively no longer have access to safe and legal abortion. We're relieved that the court stepped in to stop this, and we hope this dangerous law is ultimately overturned completely," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. (Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Will Dunham and Eric Walsh)