Supreme Court allows Texas abortion clinics to reopen for now

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court for now has ordered Texas not to enforce a law that had effectively shut down several clinics that provide abortions. The court's order means those clinics can reopen immediately.

The restrictions had gone into effect in recent days, but a number of abortion rights supporters then asked the justices to intervene on an emergency basis.

The 6-3 order Tuesday from the high court was a setback for the law's backers.

A ruling by a federal appeals court earlier this month gave Texas the green light to move forward on the mandate requiring all abortion clinics in the state be "ambulatory surgical centers," regulated under the same standards as hospitals. Another challenged provision would force doctors performing abortions to first obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

Abortion rights groups said 13 reproductive health clinics were forced to immediately close after the court ruling, leaving all but eight still operating.

The high court's action would only have temporary effect, until more appeals can be filed on the larger questions of the Texas law's constitutionality. That process may take several months, at least, to resolve at the appeals court level.

The Supreme Court refused to intervene previously when other sections of the Texas law were challenged in court.

Lawmakers in the state's Republican-majority legislature have said the regulations would improve patient care and safety.

Abortion rights groups counter, saying the law is designed to make it nearly impossible to operate an abortion clinic in Texas.

The Center for Reproductive Rights had sued Texas this past spring, on behalf of a coalition of abortion clinics. In August, a federal judge ruled that the "ambulatory surgical centers" requirement was unconstitutional and imposed an injunction. Thursday's appeals court ruling lifted that injunction and allowed the measure to go into effect immediately.

Abortion rights groups cheered the justices' intervention.

"The U.S. Supreme Court gave Texas women a tremendous victory today," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This fight against Texas' sham abortion law is not over. HB2 was designed to gut the constitutional protections of Roe v. Wade and half of the state's clinics remain closed. "

There was no immediate reaction from state officials to the Supreme Court's one-page order, which Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito opposed.

A spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office, who earlier defended the law, said it was passed after "careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women."

Abortion rights groups counter the mandate will leave women of reproductive age in the state with minimal health care options, and called the appeals court decision "demonstrably wrong."

Clinic supporters said before the bill was enacted, there were 41 facilities in Texas providing abortions.

The law also bans abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy and tightens usage guidelines for "abortion-inducing drugs" such as RU-486.

Critics contend the law, in addition to eliminating abortion across huge swaths of the state, will further deny access to many women in rural communities and will force women to seek dangerous "back-alley" abortions.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry signed the bill into law last year.

The high court case is Whole Woman's Health v. Lakey (14A365).