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A federal appeals court Thursday allowed Texas to immediately begin enforcing tough new abortion restrictions that will effectively close all but seven abortion facilities in America's second most-populous state.

A panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans stayed a lower judge's ruling while it considers the overall constitutionality of key portions of Texas' sweeping 2013 abortion law, which Republican Gov. Rick Perry and other conservatives say is designed to protect women's health.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled in August that part of the law requiring Texas clinics to spend millions of dollars on hospital-level upgrades was less about safety than making access to abortion difficult.

Yeakel's ruling in Austin suspended the upgrades requirement. But Texas is appealing, and asked the appeals court to let it enforce the law during that process — clearing the way for the panel's ruling.

Allowing to go forward the rules on hospital-level upgrades — including mandatory operating rooms and air filtration systems — would shutter more than a dozen clinics across Texas. It means only abortion facilities will remain open in the Houston, Austin, San Antonio and the Dallas-Fort Worth areas.

None will be left along the Texas-Mexico border or outside any of the state's largest urban areas.

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