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Federal appeals court reinstates most of Texas' abortion restrictions

Texas Abortion Bill.jpg

Members of the gallery cheer and chant as the Texas Senate tries to bring an abortion bill to a vote as time expires, Wednesday, June 26, 2013, in Austin, Texas. Amid the deafening roar of abortion rights supporters, Texas Republicans huddled around the Senate podium to pass new abortion restrictions, but whether the vote was cast before or after midnight is in dispute. If signed into law, the measures would close almost every abortion clinic in Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

A federal appeals court issued a ruling Thursday reinstating most of Texas' controversial new abortions restrictions, just three days after a federal judge ruled they were unconstitutional. 

A panel of judges at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said the law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital can take effect while a lawsuit challenging the restrictions moves forward. The panel issued the ruling after District Judge Lee Yeakel said the provision serves no medical purpose.

The panel's decision means as least 12 clinics won't be able to perform the procedure starting as soon as Friday. In its 20-page ruling, it acknowledged that the provision "may increase the cost of accessing an abortion provider and decrease the number of physicians available to perform abortions." 

However, the panel said that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that having "the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough to invalidate" a law that serves a valid purpose, "one not designed to strike at the right itself."

The panel left in place a portion of Yeakel's order that prevents the state from enforcing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration protocol for abortion-inducing drugs in cases where the woman is between 50 and 63 days into her pregnancy. Doctors testifying before the court had said such women would be harmed if the protocol were enforced.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott had made an emergency appeal to the conservative 5th Circuit, arguing that the law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges is a constitutional use of the Legislature's authority.

Abbot said in a statement Thursday that "this unanimous decision is a vindication of the careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women."

Texas' Republican Gov. Rick Perry also spoke out praising the ruling Thursday night.

"Today's decision affirms our right to protect both the unborn and the health of the women of Texas," Perry said. "We will continue doing everything we can to protect a culture of life in our state."

Lawyers for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers had argued that the regulations did not protect women and would shut down a third of the abortion clinics in Texas.

In a statement Thursday, Planned Parenthood said the appeals court decision means "abortion will no longer be available in vast stretches of Texas."

"This fight is far from over," Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said in the statement. "This restriction clearly violates Texas women's constitutional rights by drastically reducing access to safe and legal abortion statewide

The court's order is temporary until it can hold a complete hearing, likely in January. The restrictions are among the toughest in the nation and gained notoriety when Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis launched a nearly 13-hour filibuster against them in June. 

The law also bans abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy and beginning in October 2014 requires doctors to perform all abortions in surgical facilities.

During the trial, officials for one chain of abortion clinics testified that they've tried to obtain admitting privileges for their doctors at 32 hospitals, but so far only 15 accepted applications and none have announced a decision. 

Many hospitals with religious affiliations will not allow abortion doctors to work there, while others fear protests if they provide privileges. 

Many have requirements that doctors live within a certain radius of the facility, or perform a minimum number of surgeries a year that must be performed in a hospital.

The Associated Press contributed to this report