Planned Parenthood, the largest U.S. abortion provider, filed a lawsuit in federal court on Friday challenging part of a new Texas law which the group said will dramatically reduce access to safe abortions, especially in rural areas of the huge state.
The lawsuit does not challenge two other restrictions that would prohibit abortion 20 weeks or more after the date of fertilization, except to save the life of the mother, and would require major upgrades to most abortion clinics to meet hospital surgical standards.
"We're in court today to stop a terrible situation for women in Texas from getting even worse," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups in bringing the lawsuit.
In a conference call with reporters, the groups said they were challenging a provision stating that doctors who provide abortions must have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and another part that requires direct supervision of a doctor for women to receive the so-called "abortion pill" RU-486.
Asked why the groups were not including the other provisions, Jim George, a lawyer for the groups said: "The simple answer is you can only do so much at once."
Opponents contend the parts of the law challenged in court would make it more difficult for women to get an abortion in rural areas of the vast state. They also say that abortion is a relatively safe procedure that requires very few women to be admitted to a hospital.
Supporters of the law say that requiring a doctor to have admitting privileges at a hospital is designed to improve protections and the safety of women getting abortions in the event of medical complications.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who was named in the lawsuit, had no immediate comment on action.
The issue has dominated Texas politics and helped to elevate the profile of a leading Democratic critic, state Senator Wendy Davis, who staged a nearly 11-hour filibuster against abortion restrictions and has told supporters she may run for governor.
Texas state Senator Dan Patrick, a Republican from Houston who was a sponsor of the abortion bill, criticized the lawsuit. "Every time the Democrats lose in the legislature, they go to court and sue," Patrick said.
(Reporting by Greg McCune and Mary Wisniewski in Chicago, Edith Honan in New York and Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by Greg McCune and Gunna Dickson)