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Supreme Court Puts Texas Abortion Law on Hold

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sided with Texas abortion providers and temporarily put on hold a ruling that would have closed about half of the state’s abortion facilities.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout. 

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sided with Texas abortion providers and temporarily put on hold a ruling that would have closed 10 of the state's 19 abortion facilities.

Abortion restrictions passed by the Texas Legislature in 2013 — and set to go into effect Wednesday — would have required Texas' abortion facilities to meet hospital-like standards, including minimum sizes for rooms and doorways, pipelines for anesthesia and other infrastructure. The nine Texas abortion clinics that meet those standards are all in major metropolitan areas.

On June 9, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld most provisions of the state's strict abortion law, and then denied a request from abortion providers to delay the implementation of the abortion restrictions until they appealed to the high court. Abortion providers then turned to the Supreme Court, asking it to intervene before the restrictions went into effect.

Attorneys for the abortion providers said that the Supreme Court's order also blocked the state from enforcing a separate provision of the law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic. The Supreme Court restored a lower court's ruling striking down both provisions of the law statewide, the attorneys said.

The appellate court had carved out an exception from most of the hospital-like standards for the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen and granted one of the McAllen clinic’s doctors a reprieve from the admitting privileges requirement.

“The justices have preserved Texas women’s few remaining options for safe and legal abortion care for the moment," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of Texas abortion providers. "Now it’s time to put a stop to these clinic shutdown laws once and for all."

The Texas attorney general's office has argued that the abortion restrictions are reasonable measures and that they are meant to improve women's health.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, the state's former attorney general, said Texas would continue fighting for "higher-quality healthcare standards" and the unborn, and that he was confident the Supreme Court would rule in the state's favor.

The abortion law "was a constitutional exercise of Texas’ lawmaking authority that was correctly and unanimously upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals," Abbott said in a statement.

The high court voted 5-4 to put the ruling on hold, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito voting against the delay.

Attorneys for the abortion providers had told the high court that the ruling would create "a severe shortage of abortion services" and that it would be difficult to increase “operational capacities” at remaining clinics because of how hard it is for doctors to obtain admitting privileges.

The admitting privileges provision closed about half of the 41 abortion facilities that were operating in the state before the restrictions went into effect.

The abortion providers must still file their appeal to the Supreme Court, which is not scheduled to hear arguments until October, when its next term begins.

The Supreme Court previously intervened in the abortion lawsuit. It temporarily put on hold the hospital-like standards in October after the appeals court ruled it could go into effect as the lawsuit made its way through the appeals process. 

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Health care Politics State government Abortion Texas Legislature