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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Texas abortion regulations do not improve medical safety and reduce access to the procedure, women’s healthcare providers told the U.S. Supreme Court as part of their appeal challenging a 2013 state law that imposed new requirements on abortion clinics.

Their brief, filed late Monday in one of the top court’s most closely watched cases this session, said the law’s requirements would force the closure of more than 75 percent of facilities that perform abortions in the state and prevent new ones from opening.

Lawyers for Whole Woman’s Health and other clinics argued that law imposes an undue burden on women seeking to end their pregnancies, in violation of Supreme Court decisions protecting abortion rights.

The healthcare providers are challenging a state law that forces Texas clinics offering abortions to have hospital-grade facilities and requires physicians to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km).

A federal trial judge declared the requirements an unconstitutional burden on women’s access to abortion, but the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed that decision.

The new appeal will be heard by the nine justices on March 2, and a ruling in the case is expected by the end of June, likely evoking social, religious and political tensions ahead of the November U.S. election.

Texas state officials defending the regulations have until the end of January to respond to the challengers. In previous filings, they have stressed that U.S. states have an interest in protecting the health of a woman seeking an abortion and urged courts to defer to legislative authority.

The Supreme Court has long been divided on abortion rights, which date to a 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade, declaring that women have a constitutional right to end a pregnancy. Its justices last took up an abortion dispute in 2007, when they upheld a ban on a late-term procedure critics called “partial birth abortion” in a 5-4 vote.

Lawyers for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the clinics, in their filing said that more than 40 clinics operated in Texas before the 2013 law. Afterward, nearly half closed. If the costly hospital-grade requirements stand, many more would shut down, they said.

The clinics said complications from abortion are rare and that the law provides no health benefits, adding that Texas singled out abortion for heightened medical regulation “even though it is safer than many other common medical procedures.”

The case is Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 15-274.

(Reporting by Washington Newsroom; Editing by Susan Heavey and Cynthia Osterman)

Photo: Physician’s assistant Celena Pollock works at Nuestra Clinica del Valle in San Juan, Texas. Women’s healthcare providers have filed a suit with the Supreme Court alleging that the restrictions place an undue burden on women and violate the law.

Photo by archer10 (Dennis) / CC BY-SA 2.0

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