U.S. top court to decide major abortion case for first time since 2007

A view of the U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Lawrence Hurley WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court took up a major new abortion case on Friday, agreeing to hear a challenge by abortion providers to parts of a restrictive, Republican-backed Texas law that they contend are aimed at shutting clinics that offer the procedure. The case focuses in part on a provision that has not yet gone into effect requiring clinics to have costly hospital-grade facilities. A separate section of the 2013 law that requires abortion clinic physicians to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (50 km) is also at issue but has gone into effect in most parts of Texas. The last time the nine justices of the Supreme Court decided a major abortion-related issue was in 2007 when they ruled 5-4 to uphold a federal law banning a late-term abortion procedure. Backers of the Texas law asserted that the provisions being challenged before the Supreme Court were necessary to protect the health of women. The abortion providers contended they were a smokescreen for trying to close down clinics to make abortions more difficult to obtain. They said that before the law was passed there were 42 clinics in the state that provided abortions. After the first part of the law went into effect, more than half of those clinics closed, leaving 19 currently open. If the court rules for Texas, nine of the remaining 19 facilities would be forced to close, the abortion providers said. The court will hear oral arguments early next year, with a ruling due by the end of June. (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)