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Abortion ruling leaves few options in Texas

At clinics, waiting, hoping

HARLINGEN, Texas — In a Texas abortion clinic, about a dozen women waited Friday to see the doctor, already aware that they would not be able to end their pregnancies there.

A day after a federal appeals court allowed most of the state’s new abortion restrictions to take effect during a legal challenge, about a third of Texas’ clinics were barred from performing the procedure.

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Thursday’s ruling made Texas the fourth and largest state to enforce a provision requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges in a nearby hospital. In places such as the Rio Grande Valley and rural West Texas, the mandate put hundreds of miles between many women and abortion providers.

Antiabortion groups welcomed the court’s surprise decision, which they insisted would protect women’s health. The ruling came just a few days after a lower federal court put the law on hold.

If women did not know about the ruling before they arrived at Reproductive Services of Harlingen, clinic administrator Angie Tristan told them.

Abortions are a two-day process in Texas. On Fridays, women arrive for a consultation with the doctor. On Saturdays, they return for the procedure.

Despite Tristan’s explanation that they would not be able to have abortions on Saturday, some women decided to stay on the slim hope that something would change.

A panel of judges at the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans ruled that Texas can enforce the law while a lawsuit challenging the restrictions moves forward.

The law that the Legislature passed in July also bans abortions at 20 weeks and, beginning in September 2014, requires doctors to perform all abortions in surgical facilities.

But it’s the provision about admitting privileges that has idled Dr. Lester Minto’s hands here in Harlingen.

After the law was adopted, the clinic began preparing to close, shredding old patient records and drawing down their inventory, ordering only enough supplies to keep going for a month at a time.

Minto, who has been performing abortions for 30 years, predicted the women he sees would take dangerous measures in their desperation. He made clear he would not perform abortions Saturday if they remain prohibited, but he did not rule out taking other steps in the future.

‘‘I’m going to continue helping girls somehow,’’ he said.

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