July 20, 2017 / 8:36 PM / a month ago

Abortion rights groups sue Texas to block procedure ban

FILE PHOTO: Texas governor Greg Abbott speaks during an interview on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, U.S. on July 14, 2015.Brendan McDermid/File Photo

(Reuters) - Abortion rights groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday seeking to block a Texas law that bans the most common method of second-trimester abortion which critics argue erodes women's rights.

The challenge, which came six weeks after the state's governor signed the law, was the latest salvo in a battle over state laws enacted by Republican-controlled state legislatures that advocates say limit access to abortion.

"The law we challenged today in Texas is part of a nationwide scheme to undermine these constitutional rights and ban abortion one restriction at a time," Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Austin by Texas abortion provider Whole Woman's Health, Planned Parenthood groups and others.

The suit, which names Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and others as defendants, seeks an injunction and a ruling that the law is unconstitutional.

Paxton declined to comment on the challenge.

Anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life last month praised the legislation, calling it the "most significant pro-life victory" of the state's legislative session.

The lawsuit targets a portion of the law - known as Senate Bill 8, which is set to go into effect on Sept. 1 - that bans dilation and evacuation abortion procedures.

The Texas law refers to the procedure as "dismemberment abortion," in which a combination of suction and forceps are used to bring tissue through the cervix.

Opponents of the law say that after about 15 weeks of pregnancy it is the safest method of abortion.

Seven other U.S. states have approved similar bans, prompting legal challenges that prevented the bans from taking effect in Louisiana, Kansas and Oklahoma, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Last year, Whole Woman's Health led a legal fight that ended in the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a Texas abortion law that had shuttered nearly half the state's clinics by imposing strict regulations on doctors and facilities.

The latest Texas law, signed in June by the state's Republican Governor Greg Abbott, also requires abortion providers to dispose of aborted fetal tissue through burial or cremation. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit intend to challenge that provision as well.

The state law was enacted despite the fact that U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks in Austin put a temporary halt on a similar state regulation on fetal tissue disposal in January.

Reporting by Chris Kenning; editing by Daniel Wallis, G Crosse

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