By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to decide the legality of strict Texas abortion restrictions, women's healthcare providers have launched a campaign across the state trying to win support to keep their clinics open.
On Tuesday, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, Whole Woman's Health, opened a San Antonio clinic to media as part of week-long campaign of rallies called the "Truth Tour."
The U.S. Supreme Court took up a major new abortion case in November by agreeing to hear a challenge by abortion providers to parts of a restrictive, Republican-backed Texas law that critics contend is aimed at shutting abortion clinics.
Texas Republicans who backed what is known as HB-2 contend the 2013 abortion law is aimed at protecting women's health.
The campaign by abortion rights activists is aimed at showing the burdens that would be placed on women, especially the poor, if clinics are shut and they are forced to travel hundreds of miles (km) for an abortion and reproductive care.
"This is seen as the reproductive health, justice, and rights case of a generation," Amy Hagstrom Miller, the CEO of Whole Woman's Health, a plaintiff in the case.
One part of the Texas law that has gone into effect requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of their clinic. Ten states have imposed admitting-privilege requirements similar to those in Texas, the largest Republican-controlled state often acting as an incubator of conservative policies.
Medical groups and abortion providers contend the requirement is unnecessary because complications from abortions are rare and when they do occur, emergency room medical staff are well equipped to provide care. Supporters say the provision helps protect women by providing continuity of care.
Another part of HB-2 held up by the courts is the so-called ambulatory surgical center requirement that mandates clinics to have certain hospital-grade facilities.
Critics contend this is a regulatory hurdle to shut abortion providers by forcing them into costly construction.
Before the law went into effect, there were about 40 licensed abortion facilities in Texas, a state of about 27 million people. That number could drop to about eight if the ambulatory surgical center requirement goes into effect, a U.S. district court judge said last year, citing evidence.
(Reporting by Jim Forsyth; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Sandra Maler)