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Judge blocks key part of Texas anti-abortion law

Restrictions would have required abortion clinics to meet hospital-level operating standards

A U.S. judge on Friday threw out new abortion restrictions that would have effectively banned the procedure at most facilities in Texas, a major front in the ongoing battle over the divisive issue.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel sided with clinics that had sued over one of the most disputed measures of a sweeping anti-abortion bill signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2013. The ruling stops new restrictions that would have essentially closed more than a dozen clinics, leaving only seven abortion facilities operational in Texas by Sept. 1, according to groups challenging the law.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who is the favorite to become governor, was expected to appeal Friday's ruling.

Opposition to the Texas law was so visible that 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 bill in the state Senate. Abbot will be her opponent in November.

The law would have required abortion facilities in Texas to meet hospital-level operating standards, which supporters say would protect women's health. Outraged abortion clinic owners say they cannot afford to make such upgrades, which they criticize as unnecessary.

Clinics called the Texas law a backdoor effort to outlaw abortions, which have been a constitutional right since a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973.

The more stringent Texas requirements would have mandated operating rooms and air filtration systems. Some clinics have already stopped offering abortions after another part of the 2013 bill required doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Similar laws about admitting privileges have been blocked by federal courts in Mississippi, Kansas and Wisconsin.

Attorneys for the state denied that women would be burdened by having fewer abortion facilities. The lawyers said nearly 9 in 10 women in Texas would still live within 150 miles of a provider. Critics say that would mean nearly a million Texas women would have to drive longer than three hours to get an abortion.

The Associated Press 

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