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Appeals court upholds restrictive Texas abortion law

By Jon Herskovitz and Lisa Maria Garza

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court upheld a Texas law on Thursday that places restrictions on abortions, saying a provision requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital was a reasonable regulation.

Those opposed to the law have said it amounts to a veiled attempt to limit abortions by imposing costly and unnecessary regulations, adding that the law may be copied by other states trying to limit abortions within their borders.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found on Thursday that a federal judge erred last year in blocking the law. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed it to go into effect but had sent parts of the case back to the appeals court for review.

"The district court's opinion took the wrong approach to the rational basis test," the 5th Circuit's decision said.

The law requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges, the ability to admit a patient for treatment at a hospital usually by being recognized as a doctor who can use hospital facilities, at an adequately equipped hospital within 30 miles of their practice.

Backers said the requirement protects the health of mothers while opponents argue it places an undue burden on women in rural parts of the state where medical facilities are sparse.

"Requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges would also promote the continuity of care in all cases, reducing the risk of injury caused by miscommunication and misdiagnosis when a patient is transferred from one health care provider to another," the court wrote.

But Planned Parenthood, which brought the suit, said abortion complications are rare and usually similar to those of a miscarriage, which often are treated by emergency room physicians.

"This is a terrible court ruling that will severely limit a woman's access to safe and legal abortion in Texas," said Planned Parenthood's Cecile Richards.

CLINICS HAVE CLOSED

Since the new law went into effect about five months ago, about a third of the abortion providers in Texas have closed, mostly because of the admitting privileges provision, leaving 19 clinics in a state with 26 million people.

A new set of restrictions under the law are to take effect on Sept 1. that will impose surgical center standards for abortion clinics, even those that perform nonsurgical medication abortions.

Only about six abortion clinics would likely be able to meet all of the new requirements, Planned Parenthood said.

Abortion rights supporters said this requirement was designed to shut clinics by requiring them to pay for renovations and equipment they cannot afford.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican with presidential aspirations, hailed the decision as a victory for "the culture of life."

"Today's court decision is good news for Texas women and the unborn, and we will continue to fight for the protection of life and women's health in Texas," he said in a statement.

Texas, seen as an incubator of conservative policies, has garnered a great deal of attention because its regulations have stood up to court challenges.

Two neighboring states - Oklahoma and Louisiana - are proposing similar admitting privileges restrictions, with the Oklahoma House of Representatives approving the measure by a wide margin last month.

The court did allow abortion providers who have applied for admitting privileges within the state's designated time frame but have yet to receive a decision from hospitals to continue their practice.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Eric Walsh and Cynthia Osterman)

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