Pro-choice activists block the road against US Capitol Police, who are escorting the March For Life's path, in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, January 22, 2015
Washington (AFP) - The US Supreme Court on Monday temporarily halted the closure of most of the abortion clinics in Texas, two days before rules forcing them to shut their doors were due to go into effect.
Abortion providers said the rules -- which included requiring clinics to follow costly hospital-like building standards -- amount to a "multi-million dollar tax on abortion services" and would have forced all but nine of the sprawling state's clinics to close.
The order, which won support of five of the nine justices, blocks implementation of the law while the court considers whether to hear an appeal.
"We’re relieved that the high court has, once again, prevented anti-choice politicians from pushing safe and affordable abortion care entirely out of reach for Texas women," said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder of Whole Woman's Health, which operates six clinics in Texas.
Just 18 abortion clinics are currently operating in Texas, a state larger than France with a population of 30 million people.
That's down significantly from the 41 clinics operating in Texas in 2013 when a host of restrictions -- including those that were temporarily halted Monday -- were passed into law. Most of the clinics closed because their physicians had trouble gaining admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
Women living in smaller towns and rural areas have been hardest-hit by the closures as nearly all the clinics are in the state's five large cities.
Similar restrictions enacted in other states have led to a sharp decline in the number of abortion clinics in recent years.
The Supreme Court is currently considering a case that could lead to the closure of the last abortion provider in the state of Mississippi.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott defended the law as a "constitutional exercise of Texas' lawmaking authority that was correctly and unanimously upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals."
"Texas will continue to fight for higher-quality healthcare standards for women while protecting our most vulnerable – the unborn, and I’m confident the Supreme Court will ultimately uphold this law," he said in a statement.