Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the liberal justices, said he expects the issue to return to the Supreme Court once the appeals court issues its final ruling.
The Texas Legislature approved the requirement for admitting privileges in July. In October, days before the provision was to take effect, a trial judge blocked it, saying it probably is unconstitutional because it puts a "substantial obstacle" in front of a woman wanting an abortion.
But a three-judge appellate panel moved quickly to overrule the judge. The appeals court said the law was in line with Supreme Court rulings that have allowed for abortion restrictions so long as they do not impose an "undue burden" on a woman's ability to obtain an abortion. Writing for the appeals court, Judge Priscilla Owen noted that the Texas law would not end the procedure, only force women to drive a greater distance to obtain one.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing in support of the high court order Tuesday, said the clinics could not overcome a heavy legal burden against overruling the appeals court. The justices may not do so "unless that court clearly and demonstrably erred," Scalia said in an opinion that was joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy did not write separately or join any opinion Tuesday, but because it takes five votes to overturn the appellate ruling, it is clear that they voted with their conservative colleagues.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, praised the Supreme Court action. "This is good news both for the unborn and for the women of Texas, who are now better protected from shoddy abortion providers operating in dangerous conditions."