The Supreme Court gave a major victory to abortion rights advocates on June 27 when it struck down a Texas law that put restrictions on abortion providers and clinics. The case, Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, was decided by a 5-3 majority.
The 2013 Texas law placed two significant restrictions on abortions, the requirements that abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals and that abortion facilities be equipped as small hospitals.
State officials who supported the law claimed its intention was the protection of women’s health. The abortion providers who brought the constitutional challenge said the law was not medically necessary and placed an undue burden on women’s right to an abortion as established in the 1973 case Roe v. Wade.
“Today, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the Constitution protects not just the theoretical right to abortion, but the right of a woman to actually get one without unwarranted interference from politicians,” said Jennifer Dalven, director of the Reproductive Freedom Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. She continued, “The decision should send a loud signal to politicians that they can no longer hide behind sham rationales to shut down clinics and prevent a woman who has decided to end a pregnancy from getting the care she needs.”
Voting with the majority were justices Breyer, who penned the opinion, Ginsburg, Kagan,, Sotomayor and Kennedy. Dissenting were Chief Justice Roberts and justices Alito and Thomas. In his opinion, Breyer quotes as precedent from Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, a 1992 case. Breyer notes that the court in Casey concluded that “[u]nnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion impose an undue burden on the right.” Breyer’s opinion concludes that both the “surgical center” requirement and the admitting-privileges requirement provide “few, if any, health benefits for women,” and that each “poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an ‘undue burden’ on their constitutional right to do so.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott had this to say: “The decision erodes states’ lawmaking authority to safeguard the health and safety of women and subjects more innocent life to being lost. Texas’ goal is to protect innocent life, while ensuring the highest health and safety standards for women.”
The court’s ruling in Whole Women’s Health paves the way for challenges to other state laws that restrict access to abortion. Currently, ten states have admitting-privileges requirements and six have laws requiring hospital-grade facilities.
More immediately, the implications of the court’s decision for women seeking abortions in Texas are immense. Since the law’s passage in 2013 the number of abortion clinics in the state had dropped from 41 to 19.
Photo source: wikimedia.org