Abortion-rights groups challenge controversial Texas law in federal court

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More than a dozen abortion providers filed a federal lawsuit Friday in Texas challenging parts of the state's controversial antiabortion law, which limits access to both surgical and medication abortions in the state.

The lawsuit seeks to strike down new requirements that abortion doctors must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic and that all abortions must take place in surgical centers, rather than allowing women take abortion medication at home. The plaintiffs argue that the restrictions impose an unconstitutional burden on a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy.

The lawsuit says the requirements, which are due to take effect on Oct. 29, would end abortion services in more than a third of the state's currently licensed facilities and would eliminate services altogether in Fort Worth and five other cities: Harlingen, Killeen, Lubbock, McAllen and Waco.

Noting that "at least 1 in 12 women will have to travel more than 100 miles to obtain abortion care" if the law goes into effect, the lawsuit adds, "These requirements, individually and taken together, violate the constitutional rights guaranteed to both Plaintiffs and their patients by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution."

The challenge was filed on behalf of 10 abortion clinics by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Texas-based law firm George Brothers Kincaid & Horton.

The lawsuit does not challenge another provision in the law banning abortions after 20 weeks, which enjoys broader public support than other abortion restrictions. That restriction is currently under litigation in federal court in Arizona and state court in Georgia.

"We are challenging the things that have the most drastic effect, the quickest," said Jennifer Dalven, who directs the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, said in an interview, adding that the admitting privileges requirement alone could close a third of Texas' 36 abortion clinics.

Elizabeth Graham, executive director of Texas Right to Life, said "the abortion industry is signaling some major losses" by not challenging the 20-week ban.

Ms. Dalven said advocates may challenge another provision of the Texas law, requiring clinics to undertake costly building upgrades to put them in compliance with other ambulatory surgical clinics, but those regulations will not take effect until September 2014 and have not been finalized.

"This isn't the end of the story," she said.

Abortion opponents appear to be gaining ground across the country, passing measures imposing new requirements on abortion providers and banning the procedure earlier on in a woman's pregnancy. But their efforts are also being resisted by abortion rights proponents.

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