Feature

Republicans win Texas' abortion-bill battle — for now

The legislative fight is over, but a legal one is brewing

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) on Thursday signed into law a controversial abortion bill that had spawned an epic filibuster and fueled weeks of heated protests in the state's capitol.

Yet while Perry's signature ends the legislative battle over the bill, it will surely trigger a fresh legal fight aimed at preventing parts of the law from ever taking effect.

Similar laws have been held up by legal challenges and court orders this year following a nationwide push by Republican-led state legislatures to enact restrictive reproductive-rights laws. Even before Perry signed the bill, opponents of the legislation said they were looking at how they could take it to court.

"There are no decisions about litigation, but I think that may be the course we have to follow," Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, told the Texas Tribune.

A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood was more explicit, telling the New York Times that, "The fight over this law will move to the courts, while the bigger fight for women’s access to health care in Texas gains steam."

The Texas bill bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, requires doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, and forces abortion clinics to meet the same surgical standards set for hospitals. The regulations, critics warned, could force all but five of the state's 47 abortion providers to close.

However, those provisions won't take effect for at least 90 days — the surgical center standard kicks in September 2014 — leaving ample time for opponents to request at least a temporary injunction.

Challenges to the law would likely argue that it runs counter to the Supreme Court's longstanding ruling that states cannot present too burdensome of an obstacle to a woman's right to have an abortion. Similar efforts in recent months have been fairly successful.

Courts in Arizona, Idaho, and Georgia have blocked bans on abortions beyond 20 weeks. A federal appeals court struck down Arizona's law following a legal challenge brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights. And courts in Mississippi, Alabama, and North Dakota have halted laws mandating that abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

Just one day before Perry signed Texas' bill, a judge in Wisconsin extended a restraining order preventing that state from implementing a restrictive abortion bill. The lawsuit specifically cited a provision requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

There is no guarantee that a Texas court would follow suit and block the state's abortion bill, or even pieces of it, from going into effect. But as legal challenges in other states have shown, there is at least a path forward for opponents, with some favorable precedent.

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