(Reuters) - A federal judge in South Dakota temporarily blocked on Wednesday a new rule by the state's health department that makes access to a medication abortion more difficult.
Planned Parenthood sought the injunction against the South Dakota measure, which was first part of an executive order issued last September by Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican.
Judge Karen Schreier wrote in her ruling that Planned Parenthood had shown that South Dakota had created a "substantial obstacle" in the path of women seeking medication abortions.
Noem's executive order mandated that the two drugs used in mediation abortions both be administered by a medical provider. Typically, a woman would receive the first medication at a provider's office, and be handed the second drug at the same time, with instructions to take it 24 to 72 hours later.
Because Planned Parenthood's office in Sioux Falls is the only one that provides abortions in the state, and because many women travel long distances to reach its office, forcing them to make repeat visits could put an undue burden on many women, the judge wrote in her restraining order.
The legal battle over abortion in the United States has grown increasingly tense in recent months. In December, the Supreme Court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, heard arguments in Mississippi's bid to revive its 15-week ban on abortions.
Conservative justices indicated then that they are open to either gutting or overturning entirely Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that established a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy before the fetus is viable. A decision is due by the end of June.
In December, the federal government permanently eased some restrictions on medication used in abortions for up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, allowing the drug to be sent by mail rather than requiring it to be dispensed in person. However, 19 states have laws that supersede the FDA decision by barring telehealth consultations or mailing of abortion pills.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Editing by Robert Birsel)