Court upholds key parts of Texas' strict anti-abortion law

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- A federal appeals court upheld key parts of Texas's strict anti-abortion law on Tuesday, a decision that could leave as few as seven abortion clinics in the nation's second largest state.

The decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals comes in a lawsuit challenging some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the country, including requirements that all abortion-providing health clinics employ hospital-level operating standards.

Owners of small clinics argue that those standards demand millions of dollars in upgrades they can't afford. They and other abortion-rights supporters say the law is a thinly veiled attempt to block access to abortions in the state, but Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and other conservatives supporting the law say the standards protect women's health.

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Court upholds key parts of Texas' strict anti-abortion law
AUSTIN, TX - JULY 01: Supporters of Texas women's right to reproductive decisions rally at the Texas State capitol on July 1, 2013 in Austin, Texas. This is first day of a second legislative special session called by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to pass an restrictive abortion law through the Texas legislature. The first attempt was defeated after opponents of the law were able to stall the vote until after first special session had ended. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - JULY 01: Supporters of Texas women's right to reproductive decisions rally at the Texas State capitol on July 1, 2013 in Austin, Texas. This is first day of a second legislative special session called by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to pass an restrictive abortion law through the Texas legislature. The first attempt was defeated after opponents of the law were able to stall the vote until after first special session had ended. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - JULY 01: A pro-life supporter in the Texas State capitol on July 1, 2013 in Austin, Texas. This is first day of a second legislative special session called by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to pass an restrictive abortion law through the Texas legislature. The first attempt was defeated after opponents of the law were able to stall the vote until after first special session had ended. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - JULY 01: Texas Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Ft. Worth) leads a rally in support of Texas women's right to reproductive decisions at the Texas state capitol on July 1, 2013 in Austin, Texas. This is first day of a second legislative special session called by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to pass an restrictive abortion law through the Texas legislature. The first attempt was defeated after opponents of the law were able to stall the vote until after first special session had ended. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - JUNE 25: Reproductive rights advocates fill the Texas capitol celebrating the defeat of the controversial anti-abortion bill SB5, which was up for a vote on the last day of the legislative special session June 25, 2013 in Austin, Texas. A combination of State Sen. Wendy Davis' (D-Ft. Worth) 13-hour filibuster and protests by reproductive rights advocates helped to ultimately defeat the controversial abortion legislation at midnight. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
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The New Orleans-based appeals court, considered one of the most conservative panels in the nation, allowed Texas to enforce the restrictions when abortion providers first sued in 2013. But the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily sidelined the law last year.

Texas currently has about 17 abortion providers, down from 40 clinics in 2012. That sharp decline began after the 5th Circuit upheld another part of the 2013 law that required doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Under the new restrictions, the only remaining abortion facilities in Texas would likely be in major cities. One exception would be in McAllen, near the Texas-Mexico border, which the 5th Circuit exempted from some restrictions.

But for women in El Paso, the closest abortion provider in Texas would require a 1,200-mile round trip to San Antonio, or they would have to cross the border into New Mexico.

Attorneys for the state dismissed opponents' arguments about women being burdened by fewer abortion facilities, saying that nearly 9 in 10 women in Texas would still live within 150 miles of a provider.

A new slate of conservative leaders in Texas has vowed to continue stifling abortion-rights efforts. George P. Bush, the son of expected 2016 presidential hopeful Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush, made an anti-abortion rally at the Capitol his first public event since being sworn in as land commissioner, along with Abbott's wife, Cecilia.

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