By Brendan O'Brien
(Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Thursday reinstated a Texas abortion restriction that was blocked by a lower court this week, allowing nearly all of the state's sweeping anti-abortion law to go into effect.
The decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals means doctors who perform abortions in Texas must have admitting privileges with local hospitals within 30 miles of their clinic, according to court documents.
The Texas law passed in July was the most fiercely debated proposal to restrict abortions in the United States this year. Republican efforts to pass the law sparked an unsuccessful filibuster by Democratic state Senator Wendy Davis, which propelled her into the national spotlight and encouraged her to announce she will run for governor.
"This new ruling represents a huge pro-life victory," said the Texas Alliance For Life in a statement.
The Appeals Court overturned U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel's ruling on Monday, a day before the law was due to go into effect, that a section of the measure pertaining to admitting privileges was unconstitutional after supporters said it would force clinics to close.
"This fight is far from over. This restriction clearly violates Texas women's constitutional rights by drastically reducing access to safe and legal abortion statewide," said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the family planning and reproductive health group.
Supporters of the right to abortion have warned that the reinstated measure could force up to one third of the state's clinics to close immediately, cutting off access for some 22,000 women, because those clinics have not been able to gain admitting privileges for their physicians since the law passed.
Whole Woman's Health will close three of its five facilities in Texas on Friday because of the ruling, according to Amy Hagstrom Miller, the organization's founder and CEO, who spoke on the Rachel Maddow Show on Thursday.
"Just this evening, we had to call all our patients and cancel their appointments for tomorrow," Miller said.
Doctors do not have the required admitting privileges at the three clinics located in Fort Worth, San Antonio and McAllen.
However, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas said in a statement on Thursday that its "doors are still open."
Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who is running for Texas governor, had asked the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Yeakel's ruling and requested a full court hearing on the issue in January.
"This unanimous decision is a vindication of the careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women," he said in a statement.
The appeals court granted Abbott a hearing on the issue in January.
However, the court let stand Yeakel's ruling that blocks the state from enforcing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's abortion pill protocol for women who are 50 to 63 days pregnant if a doctor determines a surgical abortion is unsafe.
In 2012, another federal judge in Austin struck down the state's law requiring women to get a transvaginal ultrasound before abortions. An appeals court reversed that decision and the ultrasound requirement has gone into effect.
Earlier this week, Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports the right to abortion, said nine states, including Texas, passed laws requiring doctors to have admitting privileges, but they are in effect only in Kansas, Tennessee and Utah.
Laws were blocked by courts in four other states and have not yet taken effect in Arizona, Nash said.
Some 18 states, including Texas, have enacted laws restricting drug-induced abortions or holding them to the stricter federal guideline, Nash said.
Such laws have gone into effect in 14 states, but have been blocked by legal action in North Dakota, Wisconsin and Oklahoma, and are being challenged in Iowa, she said.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien and Lisa Maria Garza; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Paul Simao and Ken Wills)