A federal judge has put one of the strictest abortion laws in the country on hold. NBC's Pete Williams reports.
In a stunning move, a federal judge Monday ruled that abortion restrictions authorized by Texas lawmakers in July are unconstitutional, and will not be implemented as scheduled on Tuesday, according to court documents obtained by NBC News.
Eric Gay / AP file
Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, filibusters in an effort to stamp out the abortion bill, June 25, in Austin, Texas.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel decided Monday that the regulations requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital impeded on the rights of physicians to do what they judge is best for their patients and would unreasonably limit a woman's access to state abortion clinics.
"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," Yeakel wrote in his decision.
Although Yeakel ruled that Texas could regulate how a doctor prescribes an abortion-inducing pill, he said the law did not allow for a doctor to alter treatment taken in order to best safeguard the health of the woman taking it.
Therefore, he barred the provision of the law mandating that doctors abide the Food and Drug Administration’s procedure for drugs in all cases, according to the Associated Press.
He wrote: "The medication abortion provision may not be enforced against any physician who determines, in appropriate medical judgment, to perform the medication-abortion using off-label protocol for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”
Two other contentious provisions of the law — a prohibition on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and a requirement beginning in October 2014 that doctors perform all abortions in surgical facilities — are still slated to take effect, according to the AP.
Yeakel's decision comes four months after Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis, now a candidate for governor, staged a dramatic 13-hour filibuster against the proposed restrictions, widely considered among the most stringent in the country.
The filibuster forced Gov. Rick Perry to order a second special legislative session for the Republican-dominated Legislature to pass the controversial law.
In a statement, Davis said she was “not surprised by the judge’s ruling.”
“As a mother, I would rather see our tax dollars spent on improving our kid’s schools rather than defending this law,” she said.
Last week, Yeakel heard three days of testimony and oral arguments in Austin about the hot-button law, which opponents and abortion-rights advocates had sued to prevent from taking effect.
Those opponents, including lawyers for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, contended that the rule that doctors have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic would force a third of the clinics in the state to shutter.
Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP file
Texas Gov. Rick Perry addresses attendees of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation's Defending the American Dream Summit in Orlando, Fla., Aug. 30.
The Texas attorney general's office, on the other hand, contended that the restrictions protect women and the life of the fetus.
Attorney General Greg Abbott was widely expected to file an emergency appeal of Yeakel's order to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, according to the AP. Abbott, a Republican, is also running for governor.
In a statement, Gov. Perry said that Monday’s 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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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