Gov. Rick Perry may have won this summer when he called a second special session to pass the state's new highly restrictive abortion law, thereby defeating Wendy Davis and her epic filibuster. But on Monday—one day before key parts of the law were set to take effect—a federal judge in the Lone Star State handed abortion rights groups a win when he blocked a provision that could have forced as many as one-third of the state's 36 abortion clinics to close tomorrow.
The piece of the law that Judge Lee Yeakel of the United States District Court in Austin ruled violates the U.S. Constitution would have required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. A requirement, abortion clinics say, serves no medical purpose and would force many to close their doors. The provision, Yeakel wrote in his opinion, is without rational basis and "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."
The judge did not, however, strike down a second part of the law that was challenged in court by abortion right's groups, which requires doctors to use a particular drug protocol in nonsurgical, medication-induced abortions. (Doctors have called that provision outdated and too restrictive.) And today's ruling also does not change some of the law's other provisions such as banning abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy or requiring all abortions take place in a surgical facility. (Neither was part of the lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.)
Abortion rights groups may be celebrating today, but sadly, Republicans in Texas—namely, Gov. Perry who has said he hopes to make abortion "a thing of the past"—could still have the last laugh as Judge Yeakel's decision is expected to be appealed to higher courts.