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Oct 15, 7:08 PM EDT

Texas abortion clinics reopening after US Supreme Court blocks new restrictions


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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Texas abortion clinics that closed under tough new restrictions began reopening Wednesday after winning a reprieve at the U.S. Supreme Court, but the facilities were scheduling women with uncertainty and skeleton staffs.

A five-sentence ruling late Tuesday blocked parts of a sweeping Texas abortion law that required clinics to meet hospital-level operating standards starting Oct. 3. That had left only eight abortion facilities in the nation's second-most populous state.

Celebration among some abortion providers, however, was muted by logistics and fears that the victory is only temporary. Women seeking abortions kept phone lines busy at the Routh Street Women's Clinic in Dallas, where a former staff of 17 people is down to to single digits after the procedure was halted by the law earlier this month.

The high court only suspended the restrictions for now pending appeals, and offered no explanation for the decision.

"Some of them will come back, and some of them probably aren't," said Ginny Braun, the Dallas clinic director, about former employees that took other jobs in the past two weeks. "As one person eloquently put it this morning, whiplash is no longer a sustainable life choice for her."

Along the Texas-Mexico border, the only abortion clinic in 300 miles will resume abortion services in McAllen starting Friday, said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder of Whole Woman's Health. But staffing and financial difficulties prevent any immediate reopening of clinics in Austin and Fort Worth, and the prospects of reopening another in Beaumont are even dimmer, she said.

Hagstrom Miller said she has laid off more than 50 employees since last year, and that the on-again, off-again status of her clinics have led to taking on $500,000 in debt over the last six months.

"It's been excruciating that I can't provide for them the stability they deserve and the answers about what the future is going to look like," Hagstrom Miller said.

More than a dozen Texas abortion clinics were temporarily spared closure in August, after a federal judge in Austin ruled that new operating standards put unconstitutional barriers on abortion access. Clinics owners say they would need to spend millions of dollars to meet new surgical center requirements that they deem unnecessary.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who signed the bill into law in 2013, and other conservatives say the measures protect women's health. They and other supporters of the law cheered a ruling earlier this month by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed Texas to fully implement the abortion law.

Tuesday's decision from the high court set aside one of the law's key components: the mandate that all Texas abortion facilities meet the higher standards of ambulatory surgical centers. The court also exempted clinics in El Paso and McAllen, where access to abortion is especially limited, from a requirement that doctors who perform abortions have hospital admitting privileges.

Three justices - Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas - said they would have ruled against the clinics in all respects.

Attorneys for the state have argued that Texas women wouldn't be burdened by fewer abortion facilities, saying nearly 9 in 10 women would still live within 150 miles of a provider. But law opponents say that leaves nearly a million Texas women embarking on drives longer than three hours to get an abortion.

In El Paso, Hilltop Women's Reproductive Services expects to reopen the only abortion clinic in West Texas in seven to 10 days because of remodeling.

"We're opening and that for sure," said Gloria Martinez, the clinic's nurse administrator. She said clinic officials still haven't heard from the Texas State Department of Health Services, but that they will keep reaching out to state authorities.

"They know we're going to open, because the Supreme Court, the highest court in the country, said all in Texas can open," she said.

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Associated Press writer Juan Carlos Llorca in El Paso contributed to this report.

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

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