National abortion rights advocates made some headway Wednesday in a legal pushback against a recent wave of state legislation restricting the procedure.
An advocacy group filed another federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging a new provision in Texas' tough restrictions on abortion, less than a week after a federal appeals court reversed a previous suit and found that the stricter limits do not impose an undue burden on women's health.
Also Wednesday, a federal appeals court granted a preliminary injunction to temporarily block an Arizona rule that is the country's most stringent restriction on the use of abortion drugs.
In Texas, the Center for Reproductive Rights asked a judge in Austin to block enforcement of key portions of the state law, including some that have yet to take effect.
The suit challenges a provision of the law, which is set to take effect on Sept. 1 and mandates that all abortions — even those induced using medication — take place in an ambulatory surgical center. The suit says the requirement would force clinics to undertake upgrades of their facilities that are so costly that all but "fewer than 10 clinics" in a state with 13 million women would close. Currently, 24 clinics provide abortions across Texas, the second most-populous state in America.
Since October, the law has required abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the clinic where they perform the procedure. They must also follow strict instructions for pill-induced medical abortions and can perform abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy only if the mother's health is in danger or the fetus is not viable.
As with the previous Texas suit, this one challenges the admitting privileges provision, this time on behalf of Whole Woman's Health in McAllen and Reproductive Health Services in El Paso, which the Center for Reproductive Rights says may close despite being "among the last, if not the only, providers offering abortion care in their communities."
Still unchallenged, meanwhile, is the 20-week ban, since the vast majority of abortions are performed prior to that threshold. The latest lawsuit also doesn't question specific rules on medication-induced abortion other than as part of the surgical-center requirement.
The Center for Reproductive Rights in New York says 19 clinics have already stopped providing abortions since the law went into effect and the coming restrictions will force more to do so — though the Texas Health and Human Services Commission says the number of clinics that actually closed is fewer than half that.
In response to the original suit brought by Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin ruled against enforcement of the admitting privileges rule and requirements for the use of only federally approved protocols for drug-abortions.
The law, though, was allowed to remain in place during an appeal to the U.S. 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, where a panel of judges upheld it on March 27, ruling in part that the legal challenge came before opponents of the law had time to collect evidence it was affecting women's health.
In the latest in a series of court fights over Arizona abortion laws, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco granted Planned Parenthood Arizona's motion Wednesday.
The court is expected to decide whether to continue or lift the stay as early as Monday.
The health organization filed an appeal after a federal judge in Tucson refused to stop the new rules, just hours before they were to take effect Tuesday.
The rules banned women from taking the most common abortion-inducing drug — RU-486 — after the seventh week of pregnancy.
Existing rules allow women to take the abortion pill through nine weeks.
A study published by the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute in February showed that the U.S. abortion rate reached an estimated 40-year low in 2011. Abortion opponents hailed the findings as a success of campaigns in recent years to restrict the procedure. But abortion advocates noted that the study did not include figures for a more recent spate of anti-abortion measures in state legislatures.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press