Appeals court reinstates most of Texas' abortion restrictions


New restrictions on abortions in Texas went into effect Thursday night after a federal appeals court lifted an order that would have blocked them. 

One provision requires any doctor performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. On Monday, a federal district court judge in Austin said the requirement places an undue burden on a woman seeking a legal abortion and adds no medical value. The women's groups challenging the law said it would force about a third of the 36 abortion clinics in Texas to shut down. The judge blocked the law the day before it was going to take effect. 

Read the ruling here (PDF)

The state immediately appealed, and late Thursday a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that order, allowing the restriction to go into effect. The panel said the provision does have a valid medical purpose – helping to ensure that the credentials of doctors who perform abortions are current. The law, the court said, acts as another layer of protection for patient safety. 

It's not an undue burden, the panel said, even though it may make it harder or more expensive for women in Texas to get access to an abortion clinic. The state, it said, has a legitimate interest in protecting the integrity of the medical profession.

The appeals panel also partly revived another part of the Texas law that was put on hold Monday, one that restricts the availability of medicinal, or non-surgical, abortions using a two-pill system. 

Thursday’s ruling, freeing the state to enforce the new restrictions, will remain in effect until January, when the appeals court hears oral argument on the heart of the case – whether the new Texas abortion law is unconstitutional.

The law got a national airing when state Sen. Wendy Davis staged a dramatic 13-hour filibuster in an attempt to prevent its passage in June. She succeeded then, but Gov. Rick Perry ordered a second special legislative session to pass the law in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Pete Williams is NBC News' justice correspondent.