Supreme Court strikes down Texas abortion law

Supreme Court strikes down Texas abortion law

By Gary Gately   
Demonstrators wait outside the U.S. Supreme Court in anticipation for abortion ruling. (Photo by Danielle Wilde)

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday overturned as unconstitutional a Texas law placing severe restrictions on abortion clinics.

WASHINGTON (Talk Media News) – In a decision abortion rights advocates called a major victory, the U.S. Supreme Court Monday overturned a Texas law that severely curtailed abortion access in the state.

In its most important abortion decision in nearly a quarter-century, the court’s 5-3 ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt overturned a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding the law.

The 2013 Texas law requires abortion clinics to maintain hospital-like standards of surgical centers with large operating rooms and for doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles.

“We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,”  Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority. “Each places substantial obstacles in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution.”

The decision said the “unnecessary health regulations have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion.”

The admitting-privileges rule forced about half of Texas’s 40 abortion clinics to shut down but the Supreme Court had blocked enforcement of the requirement that clinics maintain surgi-center standards. If today’s Supreme Court ruling had gone the other way, the number of Texas abortion clinics would have dwindled to nine, in major metropolitan areas, forcing many women to travel hundreds of miles to get an abortion, abortion rights advocates say.

Justice Anthony Kennedy  joined liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor in the majority decision. Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. joined justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in dissent.

Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, tweeted, “SCOTUS’s decision is a victory for women in Texas and across America. Safe abortion should be a right—not just on paper, but in reality.”

Clinton then tweeted: “This fight isn’t over: The next president has to protect women’s health. Women won’t be ‘punished’ for exercising their basic rights.”

That’s an allusion to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s statement at a town hall in March that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who seek abortions if the practice were outlawed in the United States.

After intense criticism from both sides on the abortion debate, Trump quickly backed off from his statement and said in abortion cases “the woman is a victim.”

In a statement following her tweet, Clinton called the decision “a reminder of how much is at stake in this election” and said, “We need a President who will defend women’s health and rights and appoint Supreme Court justices who recognize Roe v. Wade as settled law.”

Trump had not commented publicly on the decision as of Monday  afternoon.

“I’m disappointed in the Court’s decision. But our fight to protect women’s health & promote life will not stop here,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., tweeted.

Abortion rights activists, who called the law an attempt to prevent women from having abortions, praised the ruling.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Whole Woman’s Health, which runs abortion clinics in Fort Worth, McAllen and San Antonio, praised the decision.

“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,” said Whole Woman’s Health President and CEO Amy Hagstrom-Miller. “Today justice was served.”

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said: “Today women across the nation have had their constitutional rights vindicated. The Supreme Court sent a loud and clear message that politicians cannot use deceptive means to shut down abortion clinics.”

President Barack Obama applauded the decision, saying: “These restrictions harm women’s health and place an unconstitutional obstacle in the path of a woman’s reproductive freedom. We remain strongly committed to the protection of women’s health, including protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care and her right to determine her own future.”

But abortion rights opponents attacked the decision, which could sharply restrict the power of Texas and other states to impose regulations that force clinics to shut down.

“In the years following Roe v. Wade, the Court exhibited extreme hostility to regulation of abortion as a medical procedure,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life.

“It is shameful to see a majority of the Supreme Court sacrificing public health and safety to prop up the abortion industry in Texas,” Pro-Life Action League Executive Director Eric Scheidler said.

“In the wake of this irresponsible ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, pro-life activists will be redoubling our efforts to highlight the dangerous conditions at America’s abortion clinics — like the ambulances we see turning up regularly at abortion clinics around the country — in hopes that one day the abortion industry will be held accountable for endangering public health.”

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement that 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.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, said in a statement that the 2013 law, House Bill 2, was designed “to improve patient safety and raise the standard of care for women at abortion facilities.”

“HB2 was an effort to improve minimum safety standards and ensure capable care for Texas women,” Paxton said. “It’s exceedingly unfortunate that the court has taken the ability to protect women’s health out of the hands of Texas citizens and their duly-elected representatives.”

In 1992, the Supreme Court re-affirmed the landmark 1973 decision Roe v. Wade in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, but said states could adopt restrictions if they did not impose an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions.

The Texas law resembles similar measures enacted in other states, including Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona, Kansas, Tennessee, Indiana, Arkansas, Missouri and Utah.


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