By Michael Winter, USA TODAY
A federal judge has struck down strict limits on abortion in Texas that were to take effect Tuesday.
District Judge Lee Yeakel declared that two statutes, passed during a special legislative session this summer, unconstitutionally restricted women's access to abortion clinics and infringed on doctors' rights to act in their patients' best interests.
In a 26-page opinion, Yeakel also blocked a provision requiring physicians to strictly follow follow U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines when prescribing pregnancy-ending drugs, limiting their treatment options. He called the lawmakers' action "an undue burden on those women for whom surgical abortion is, in the sound medical opinion of their treating physician, a significant health risk."
The judge also struck down the statue that required doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic, which opponents said would force 13 of the state's 32 clinics to close.
"The admitting-privileges provision of House Bill 2 does not bear a rational relationship to the legitimate right of the state in preserving and promoting fetal life or a woman's health and, in any event, places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus and is thus an undue burden to her," he wrote.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is expected to appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Courts of Appeals in New Orleans, which would rule on the merits of the law.
Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis shot to national attention when she filibustered against the measure for nearly 13 hours in June, leading to its defeat at the close of the special legislative session. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the measure in July after Gov. Rick Perry call a second special legislative session.
Perry later signed the bill into law, which was challenged last month in a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Abortion-rights advocates hailed the ruling.
"We are pleased but not surprised by this development. It has been clear from day one that the laws advanced by Governor Perry and others are unconstitutional and put women at greater risk," said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro Choice America. "We will continue to fight to ensure all parts of this law, and other laws restricting women's health care options, which are clearly unconstitutional are defeated."
Perry, meanwhile, said In a statement that the Yeakel ruling "will not stop our ongoing efforts to protect life and ensure the women of our state aren't exposed to any more of the abortion-mill horror stories that have made headlines recently."
"We will continue fighting to implement the laws passed by the duly-elected officials of our state, laws that reflect the will and values of Texans," he said.
A federal judge blocked similar restrictions that Mississippi lawmakers passed last year. A trial is set to begin in March.