The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that part of a 2013 Texas law restricting abortion procedures is “unconstitutional.”
House Bill 2 required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Each clinic also had to meet the standards of hospital surgical facilities. The law also banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and the abortion pill misoprostol.
The law garnered national attention during former Sen. Wendy Davis’s 11-hour filibuster in June 2013. The ensuing court case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, asked whether these new admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements on abortion providers within the state posed an “undue burden” on women, which would make it unconstitutional.
The Center for Reproductive Rights says Texas has 19 clinics offering abortions, which is down from more than 40 before the law was passed. The Center says if the Supreme Court had allowed the Texas law to stand, the number of clinics would be reduced to 9.
Those against the law rallied around the potential to regain some abortion clinics in communities that are hundreds of miles from care, and strike down a law they say harms women seeking abortions – particularly low-income, rural and minority women. Those who supported the law say women seeking abortion deserve the same high standards of every other surgical patient.
Monday’s ruling ensured that the 19 remaining clinics will continue to provide abortions. In a majority opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court stated that the requirements on abortion facilities is not necessary and do not benefit patients. Likewise, the court stated that it found “sufficient evidence” that the admitting privileges provision of the law led to the closure of nearly half of Texas’ clinics that provided abortion.
Tamara Tabo, who writes a column for the legal site “Above the Law,” says that although the outcome of the case looked different at the beginning of the term, after Justice Antonin Scalia died, Monday’s result wasn’t unexpected.
“Given the justices who were remaining, this is probably pretty consistent with what we’ve been anticipating in the past few weeks,” Tabo says.
The ruling takes immediate effect for abortion clinics in Texas. Both of the challenged provisions to the law were struck down. Several other states have similar laws that are pending at various levels in the courts.
The case has set a precedent over what constitutes an “undue burden” and will help clarify how far states can go in restricting abortion. But Tabo says Monday’s opinion shows how factually sensitive abortion cases are for the court – meaning any future court cases will also be fact-bound.
“It makes it much less likely that states will prevail and be able to defend these sorts of laws that have the pretty clear effect of substantially limiting access to abortion, closing down a lot of clinics – even when the state says that that is just an unhappy consequence of a law that’s intended to protect women’s health,” Tabo says. “So, if the facts are a little bit different, then we might not necessarily have the same outcome, but certainly this case is going to be heavily influential on those cases.”
On first glance of the Supreme Court’s opinion, Tabo says she found something of note: among the three dissenters, even some of the very conservative justices found certain provisions unduly burdensome to women.
“Even from oral arguments and earlier in the term, it was definitely clear that some of these provisions are harder to justify for the state than others,” she says. “For example, a part of what this law meant was that even women who wanted to get a (medicine-induced) abortion … even those women were required to travel to a facility that met these standards. So they couldn’t simply get this prescription from a pharmacy. They had to take the medication at a facility.”
Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.