The US Supreme Court agreed Monday afternoon to put a hold on court rulings that have reduced the number of abortion clinics in Texas, NBC News reports.
The justices voted granting an emergency appeal from the clinics after a federal appeals court upheld new regulations and refused to keep them on hold while the clinics appealed to the Supreme Court.
Four of the court's conservatives -- Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito -- dissented.
The latest news from around North Texas.
The court's decision to block the regulations is a strong indication that the justices will hear the full appeal, which could be the biggest abortion case at the Supreme Court in nearly 25 years.
If the court steps in, the hearing and the eventual ruling would come amid the 2016 presidential campaign.
Women's groups asked the Supreme Court to put an emergency hold on the effect of the law while they prepare an appeal to challenge its constitutionality. They say the law, which takes effect July 1, would force all but nine abortion clinics in the state to close.
The Supreme Court order will remain in effect at least until the court decides whether to hear the clinics' appeal of the lower court ruling, not before the fall.
A state law passed in 2013 required clinics providing abortion services to meet the same standards as an ambulatory surgical center, and it required doctors providing the services to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
The clinics said enforcing the new regulations would lead to a second major wave of clinic closures statewide in as many years. Texas had 41 abortion clinics in 2012; 19 remain.
The regulations would have left the state with no clinic west of San Antonio. Only one would have been able to operate on a limited basis in the Rio Grande Valley.
"Overall, there would be a net reduction in abortion facilities of more than 75 percent in a two-year period," they argue in their court filings. And the clinics that remain open would find it hard to expand their services.
Texas had urged the court to let the law take effect. "An abortion facility will remain open in each area where an abortion facility will close," the state contended, meaning that women in Texas "will not have to travel any materially greater distances to obtain an abortion."
The state argued that the requirements are medically necessary to protect the health of patients. But the women's groups say the law will burden a woman's right to end her pregnancy.
A federal appeals court upheld the law, but modified its application to the clinic in McAllen, because it was the only facility providing abortion services in a large part of southwestern Texas.