SCOTUS Strikes Down Major Portions Of Controversial Texas Abortion Law

Abortion rights groups hailed the ruling as an affirmation of Roe v. Wade, but cautioned that access to abortion will not be easily – or quickly – restored in Texas.

By Carrie FeibelJune 28, 2016 9:30 am| , ,

From Houston Public Media

The law known as “HB2” led to the closure of more than twenty abortion clinics across the state, as a lawsuit challenging it wound all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Monday, when the Court released its decision in “Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt,” Texas had only 18 clinics still offering abortion. If the Justices had decided instead to uphold the law, more clinics would have closed, leaving Texas with 10 or less.

But instead the Justices ruled 5-3 to strike down the law’s admitting privileges requirement, and a regulation that required all abortions to take place in ambulatory surgery centers.

The decision was greeted with rapturous shouts, hugs and tears inside the Houston Women’s Clinic in Midtown. The clinic, owned and operated by Dr. Bernard Rosenfeld, is not an ambulatory surgery center, so the decision means it can stay open, according to Kathy Kleinfeld, a clinic consultant. Rosenfeld said it would have cost millions to buy land to build a new surgery center.

“This is huge for Texas women and the entire country,” Kleinfeld said. “This is huge, this is historic. Roe v. Wade remains intact.”

Amy Hagstrom Miller is the founder of Whole Woman’s Health, and was lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that reached the Supreme Court. She had to close two of her clinics because of the law, and a third clinic was in danger of closing if the Justices had voted to uphold the law. That clinic, in McAllen, is the only place left to get an abortion in the Rio Grande Valley.

“This is a time when we stood up and said ‘enough is enough,’” Hagstrom Miller said. “(We) really shed light on the fact that these are sham laws and they’re structured to shutter clinics. I think not only were we heard across the country, but we were heard by the Supreme Court.”

Even with the victory, it’s not going to be easy to re-open the clinics she already closed in Beaumont and Austin, Hagstrom Miller said.

She will have to find new office space, buy new equipment, hire doctors and other medical workers, and obtain new state licenses.

Among abortion opponents in Texas, disappointment and defiance were the predominant reactions.

Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for Texas Right to Life, said the Supreme Court Justices gave abortion providers permission to behave like lazy “slackers.”

“They just said it’s too expensive for them to comply, they didn’t want to, (and) if they had to abide by the law, they would close,” Horne said. “Essentially, (they said ) we don’t want to comply with the law, and the Supreme Court granted them the right to do that, so that’s what we call ‘slacker’s veto.’”

To counteract that ‘slacker’s veto,’ Horne’s group will lobby for new Texas abortion regulations next year – including a ban on a certain abortion technique.

That kind of determination on the part of her opponents didn’t surprise Poppy Northcutt, the president of the Houston and Texas chapters of the National Organization of Women, or NOW.

Anti-abortion politicians had been able to use the Texas law, known as HB2, to inflict grave damage on reproductive health care in Texas, Northcutt said.

“I’m thrilled and happy with what the Supreme Corut did, but I don’t consider this a total victory by any means,” she said.

“Even though HB2 has now been, in large part, found unconstitutional and struck down, it succeeded already in shutting down 20 abortion clinics,” she added. “While some of them may be able to come back, many of them will not. They are gone.”

Many other restrictions on abortion, abortion providers, and abortion patients remain in place in many states.

In Texas, those include a twenty-four hour waiting period and a law that makes it harder for a minor to get an abortion without informing her parent or guardian.

But abortion rights groups say they can use the court’s decision to renew their fight against those and other laws.