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Groups favoring right to abortion ask high court to halt Texas law

Texas state Democratic Senator Wendy Davis votes against a motion to table an amendment to Senate Bill 1 (SB1) as the state Senate meets to consider legislation restricting abortion rights in Austin, Texas, July 12, 2013.
Credit: Reuters/Mike Stone
Texas state Democratic Senator Wendy Davis votes against a motion to table an amendment to Senate Bill 1 (SB1) as the state Senate meets to consider legislation restricting abortion rights in Austin, Texas, July 12, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Mike Stone

By Karen Brooks

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Groups opposed to new restrictions on abortion in Texas filed an emergency request with the Supreme Court on Monday to halt part of a law that prompted a dozen clinics in the state to stop performing the procedure.

The move is the latest step in a legal battle between the Republican-dominated state government of Texas and supporters of the right to abortion over the law that imposes some of the toughest restrictions in the United States.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave attorneys for the state of Texas until November 12 to respond to the emergency request to halt a key provision in the law, according to court documents.

The provision requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility in case women have complications.

At least a dozen clinics and surgery centers across the state stopped offering abortions after the law went into effect on Friday, saying that their doctors had been unable to secure admitting privileges, clinic employees said.

One of the women whose abortion appointment was canceled was Marni Evans, an independent consultant in Austin, Texas. She told a conference call with reporters organized by Planned Parenthood that she is considering flying to Seattle, where she used to live, to terminate her pregnancy.

Evans, 37, and her fiance made the decision to end the pregnancy for financial reasons, she said.

"My fiance and I are both self employed. We can barely afford our own healthcare, let alone a child," Evans said. "We want to start a family some day, but we just can't do it now."

The Texas provision was part of a sweeping anti-abortion law, passed in July by the Republican-led Texas Legislature, that also requires abortion clinics to meet heightened building standards, bans abortion after 20 weeks and requires strict adherence to federal guidelines in prescribing the so-called abortion pill.

A federal appeals court late on Thursday ruled that the law could take effect immediately. The appeals court decision reversed a lower court ruling which halted the provision on admitting privileges before the law was due to go into effect.

The law gained national headlines when Democratic state Senator Wendy Davis spoke against it for several hours, gaining her a nationwide following and encouraging her to announce her campaign for Texas governor last month.

"Last week's court decision allowing this extreme measure to take effect has already begun to hit the state of Texas like a tsunami, taking away vital health services from women," said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups which appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the state argued that Texas has the right to put in place laws that discourage abortion and said opponents had not proven in court that the law could cut off access to abortions.

Opponents said shutting down services at about one-third of the facilities in the state cuts off access to a legal abortion for an estimated 22,000 women.

Several said they were still trying to gain admitting privileges for their physicians and may be able to re-open or offer their services again once that happens.

(Reporting by Karen Brooks; Editing by Greg McCune and Andrew Hay)

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