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Hold on part of Wisconsin abortion law extended two more weeks

By Brendan O'Brien

MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) - Part of a new Wisconsin abortion law will remain on hold for another two weeks after a federal judge on Wednesday extended his stay on a requirement that any doctor performing an abortion have privileges to admit patients to a nearby hospital.

Opponents of the measure say it could shut down half the state's abortion clinics.

U.S. District Judge William Conley extended a temporary hold he had imposed on July 8 and said he expects to rule on whether to impose a preliminary injunction during the next two weeks.

A new Wisconsin abortion law requires a doctor to have admitting privileges at a hospital located within 30 miles of his or her practice.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Affiliated Medical Services, the state's two abortion providers, challenged the measure in court, saying it could force abortion clinics in Appleton and Milwaukee to close.

"This law will pose a significant undue burden for the women of Wisconsin," said Carrie Flaxman, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, during the hearing.

Two other clinics, one in Madison and a second Milwaukee clinic, would not be forced to close.

State of Wisconsin lawyers argued during the hearing that the law gives women the assurance of better health care.

Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker signed the measure into law July 5. The law also requires an ultrasound to be performed on a pregnant woman at least 24 hours before an abortion, a requirement that can be waived if the pregnancy is the result of sexual assault or incest.

Under the law, results of the ultrasound, including images, a description of the fetus and a visualization of the fetal heartbeat, must be offered to the patient, but she can decline to see them.

The lawsuit in federal court does not challenge the ultrasound portion of the law.

The Wisconsin law is one of the latest state restrictions on abortion, which was legalized nationally by a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Earlier this month, Texas passed a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and also would require doctors to have hospital admitting privileges. Texas Governor Rick Perry is expected to sign the provisions into law soon.

Courts have blocked hospital admitting requirements in Mississippi and Alabama, according to data published July 1 by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that supports abortion rights. Five other states have similar laws on the books, according to the data.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Greg McCune and Jim Marshall)

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