AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A federal appeals court upheld key parts of Texas's strict anti-abortion law on Tuesday, a decision that could leave as few as seven abortion clinics in the nation's second largest state.
The decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals comes in a lawsuit challenging some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the country, including requirements that all abortion-providing health clinics employ hospital-level operating standards.
Owners of small clinics argue that those standards demand millions of dollars in upgrades they can't afford. They and other abortion-rights supporters say the law is a thinly veiled attempt to block access to abortions in the state, but Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and other conservatives supporting the law say the standards protect women's health.
The New Orleans-based appeals court, considered one of the most conservative panels in the nation, allowed Texas to enforce the restrictions when abortion providers first sued in 2013. But the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily sidelined the law last year.
Texas currently has about 17 abortion providers, down from 40 clinics in 2012. That sharp decline began after the 5th Circuit upheld another part of the 2013 law that required doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
Under the new restrictions, the only remaining abortion facilities in Texas would likely be in major cities. One exception would be in McAllen, near the Texas-Mexico border, which the 5th Circuit exempted from some restrictions.
But for women in El Paso, the closest abortion provider in Texas would require a 1,200-mile round trip to San Antonio, or they would have to cross the border into New Mexico.
Attorneys for the state dismissed opponents' arguments about women being burdened by fewer abortion facilities, saying that nearly 9 in 10 women in Texas would still live within 150 miles of a provider.