Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Abortion Restrictions in Landmark Ruling
Many consider it to be the most significant abortion ruling in a generation
The Supreme Court struck downtwo key abortion restrictionsMonday, redefining the scope ofRoe v. Wade in what many consider to be the most significant abortion ruling in a generation.
In Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt, the Court ruled 5-3 that Texas’s regulations on abortion providers constituted an undue burden on the constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy. In 2013, Texas passed a law requiring all abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals and all clinics to be equipped with hospital-level surgical centers.
“Today, the Supreme Court affirmed what we at Whole Woman’s Health have known all along—that every woman, no matter where she lives, deserves access to compassionate, respectful, and comprehensive care from a clinic she trusts,” Amy Hagstrom-Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, said in a statement. “Today justice was served.”
The 2013 Texas law, known as HB2, is part of a larger strategy employed by anti-abortion state lawmakers to significantly curtail abortion without actually outlawing it. Conservative lawmakers in dozens of states have implemented waiting periods, term limits, and regulations on doctors and abortion providers that often lead to the closure of clinics. At least 288 abortion regulations have been enacted since conservatives swept into state legislatures in 2010, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which amounts to about 27% of all the restrictions passed in the 43 years sinceRoe v Wade. Reproductive rights advocates argue that these laws constitute an “undue burden,” since women in states like Texas, Mississippi, and Wisconsin often have to take days off of work and drive hundreds of miles to get to an abortion provider, if they can get an appointment at all.The ruling was a clarification on the 1992 plurality opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which Justice Anthony Kennedy joined Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in writing that states may regulate abortion as long as they do not create an “undue burden.” Monday’s ruling attempts to clarify exactly what an “undue burden” means.
Supporters of the laws argue that the regulations make abortion safer, and protect women’s health. In his Supreme Court argument in defense of the law, Texas solicitor general Scott Keller repeatedly referred to a high complication rate, an argument that has recently become the rallying cry of the anti-abortion movement.
“The abortion industry cannot be trusted to regulate itself and they know it,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List, in a statement about the decision. She condemned what she called the “unsanitary conditions” of clinics that provide abortions, called laws like HB2 “common sense” standards, and urged supporters to elect a “pro-life president” to “address the havoc wrought by the Supreme Court on America’s unborn children and their mothers.”
“We have documented page after page of incidents of abuse, negligence, and brutality since 2008,” she said. “This decision means the filth and exploitation will continue unchecked.”
Major medical organizations like the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists had filed amicus briefs urging the Supreme Court to strike down the law, calling the restrictions “medically unnecessary.” During the hearings in March, the female Supreme Court justices pointed out that abortion has a lower complication rate than many other common medical procedures, including childbirth.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton immediately hailed the ruling as a “victory for women in Texas and across America.” “Safe abortion should be a right—not just on paper, but in reality,” Clinton wrote on Twitter.
The former Secretary of State also took the opportunity to say the next president “has to protect women’s health.” “This fight isn’t over,” she tweeted. “Women won’t be ‘punished’ for exercising their basic rights.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also celebrated the decision, but noted in a statement that “many challenges remain,” including those expected from GOP lawmakers. “A woman’s health decisions must be her own, in consultation with her family, her physician, and her faith,” she said. “Politicians have no business undermining women’s constitutional right to make their own reproductive decisions. Republicans cannot keep inventing ways to deny women access to their constitutional right to comprehensive health care.”
Reproductive rights advocates also praised the decision. “The court reaffirmed that the court respects women’s health and dignity in making health decisions, and they shouldn’t have to face needless barriers,” said Stephanie Totti, the lawyer with the Center for Reproductive Rights who argued the case on behalf of Whole Woman’s Health. “This makes it clear that states cannot enact sham laws that limit women’s access to abortion.”
The ruling also sends a signal to other states, like Mississippi andWisconsin,which are facing similar challenges to abortion laws.
“It would create a strong tool that we could use to dismantle the anti-abortion infrastructure that has been created in so many states in recent years,” Totti said.