WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to block temporarily parts of a strict new Texas abortion law that critics say is aimed at shutting down clinics that offer the procedure.
The court granted a request by women’s health providers to put a temporary hold on a June 9 ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The groups had asked the high court to put the provisions on hold until they can file a formal petition asking the justices to take the case.
The court was divided 5-4, with conservative Anthony Kennedy joining the court’s four liberals in granting the stay request.
With the court now recessed for the summer, no further action is likely until at least the fall.
At issue are two provisions of the 2013 Texas abortion law. One mandates clinics have certain costly hospital-grade facilities. The other requires that abortion clinic physicians have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (50 km).
The women’s groups said allowing the provision to fully take effect on July 1 would close 10 of 19 facilities providing abortion services in the state. Before the 2013 law, there were about 40 licensed abortion facilities in Texas, a state of 27 million people.
Women’s health providers have contested the law since it was approved, saying its provisions have no public health benefits, place an undue burden on women and have a negative impact by forcing women to seek abortions at illegal and unlicensed facilities.
“Our Constitution rightly protects women from laws that would create barriers to safe and legal abortion care, but Texas politicians have tried to sneak around the Constitution with sham regulations designed to close clinics’ doors,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Republican Governor Greg Abbott defended the law.
“Texas will continue to fight for higher-quality healthcare standards for women while protecting our most vulnerable – the unborn, and I’m confident the Supreme Court will ultimately uphold this law,” he said in a statement.
Attorney General Ken Paxton has said the law would protect women from substandard abortion facilities.
The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists submitted briefs in the case, saying the law does not serve women’s health and could cause harm by restricting access to abortion providers.
Texas, the largest Republican-controlled state, has been at the forefront of regulations restricting access to abortion.
Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Will Dunham, Doina Chiacu