A federal appeals court was set to review a Texas law that led to the closing of many abortion clinics in the state, a case that ultimately appears to be bound for the U.S. Supreme Court.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans was scheduled to hear arguments Monday over a ruling that declared parts of the 2013 law to be unconstitutional.
Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights sued to block two of the law's provisions. One requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges within 30 miles of where the abortion is performed. The other restricts how doctors administer abortion-inducing drugs.
The groups say U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel correctly ruled in October that the provisions place an unconstitutional burden on women's access to abortion.
Three days after Yeakel's ruling, the 5th Circuit allowed Texas to enforce the law while it appeals the decision. At least a dozen Texas abortion clinics closed after the law took effect.
The groups challenging the law's provisions warned that enforcement of the privileges requirement would force at least one-third of the state's abortion clinics to close, denying more than 20,000 women access to an abortion annually.
"Large parts of the state would no longer have an abortion provider," their attorneys wrote in a Dec. 13 court filing. "Those health centers that could continue to provide abortions would be forced to serve more women with fewer physicians."
In a Nov. 22 court filing, the state argued that the new requirements promote the health and safety of abortion patients and advance the state's "interest in protecting fetal life."
"Although some opponents of (the law) have questioned whether the statute's health-and-safety benefits will outweigh the costs imposed on abortion providers, the Supreme Court allows states to resolve disagreements within the medical community over the proper standards of practice," lawyers for the state wrote.
In November, the groups challenging the new provisions asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the 5th Circuit's stay of Yeakel's ruling. The high court rejected the request in a 5-4 opinion. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the minority opinion that he believes at least four justices will vote to hear the case no matter how the 5th Circuit ultimately rules.