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Planned Parenthood takes Texas abortion fight to high court

HOUSTON -- Planned Parenthood and other women's health activists are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to step into their fight to block new restrictions on Texas abortion providers.

The groups filed an emergency petition yesterday to freeze the law after a New Orleans-based federal appeals court last week ruled the measure could take effect. The appellate court put on hold a trial judge's Oct. 28 ruling that the new limits and requirements were unconstitutional.

"The evidence showed that, absent an injunction, the law would have an unprecedented and devastating effect on women's abilities to obtain an abortion," Janet Crepps, the activists' attorney, said in the application to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who oversees emergency requests for the appeals court that has jurisdiction in Texas.

Scalia told Texas to respond to the request by Nov. 12.

Monday, the high court dismissed what would have been its first abortion showdown since 2007, backing out of a clash over an Oklahoma law that sought to restrict drug-induced procedures.

The court left intact an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision that struck down a 2011 state law on the grounds it put an unconstitutional burden on women seeking an abortion. "In just the few short days since the injunction was lifted, over one-third of the facilities providing abortions in Texas have been forced to stop providing that care and others have been forced to drastically reduce the number of patients to whom they are able to provide care," Crepps said.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, signed sweeping new restrictions on abortion into law this year, in spite of a last-ditch effort by Democrats, led by state Sen. Wendy Davis, to kill the law with a filibuster.

"We believe the Fifth Circuit panel's unanimous decision was correct and will continue to defend the law before the U.S. Supreme Court," Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, said in an e-mail statement.

Activists sued to block the new restrictions in federal court in Austin. After a three-day nonjury trial last month, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel granted an injunction permanently preventing Texas from enforcing two measures, including a requirement that doctors have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinics where they perform abortions.

Planned Parenthood presented evidence at trial that many doctors who perform abortions lacked local hospital admitting privileges in Texas and would have to stop performing them immediately. This would leave women in wide swaths of the second-largest state without ready access to the procedure, the clinics said.

Texas appealed Yeakel's ruling the next day and won an emergency order from the New Orleans appellate court that overturned his decision. The appellate judges said the activists weren't likely to succeed on appeal so Texas should be allowed to begin enforcing its new abortion restrictions right away.

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