By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A federal judge in Texas on Friday halted state regulations that would require abortion providers to dispose of aborted fetal tissue through burial or cremation, saying the rules imposed "undue burdens on a woman's right to seek a previability abortion."
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks issued an injunction that will stay in effect until the court can render "a meaningful decision on the merits" of the case, online court documents showed.
State lawyers argued that the Texas Department of State Health Service's (DSHS) regulation was in line with preserving human dignity but plaintiffs, who included abortion providers, said it was an unnecessary and vague regulation aimed at making abortions more arduous and expensive.
"It seems unlikely DSHS'S professed purpose is a valid state interest and not a pretext for restricting abortion access," Sparks wrote.
"By comparison, Plaintiffs face likely constitutional violations, which could severely limit abortion access in Texas," he wrote.
The proposed Texas limitations would be more stringent than regulations in almost every other state, which allow aborted fetal tissue to be disposed of in the same manner as other human tissue, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research group.
The Texas regulation change was crafted shortly after the state suffered a stinging defeat at the U.S. Supreme Court last year when the justices struck down separate abortion restrictions backed by the state's Republican leaders.
Providers of women's health services including abortions argue the rules are part of a nationwide agenda to place restrictions on abortions and make it harder for women to get the procedure.
"This restriction, just like the many before it, all across our nation, does not create any health benefit for women and is strictly designed to limit access to safe, quality abortion care," Amy Hagstrom Miller, the chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health and a plaintiff in the case, said in a statement.
Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the state will continue its fight.
He said in a statement that the ruling "reaffirms that the abortion lobby has grown so extreme that it will reject any and every regulation no matter how sensible."
In a separate reproductive rights case, Sparks heard arguments this month over plans from Texas to cut Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood. He has placed a hold on the funding cuts to consider what he called "the mountain of evidence" in the case.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio)