The Supreme Court took up a hugely important abortion case Wednesday that centers on a Texas law requiring clinics to meet health standards they say could force them to shut down permanently.
Without Justice Antonin Scalia on the bench, pro-life activists probably won’t see the decisive victory they had hoped for, but they’re still positioned to benefit from the ruling. In the case of a 4-4 tie, a lower court’s ruling upholding the Texas law will stand, and the Supreme Court will be unable to set a national precedent.
Pro-choice activists are describing the case as the most important in decades. A ruling upholding the Texas law “would devastate access to abortion in Texas and pave the way for even more states to enact similar laws,” Planned Parenthood Action Fund says on its website.
The law requires abortionists to have admitting privileges to a nearby hospital and requires clinics to meet surgical clinic standards, which opponents say would shut down more than half of the abortion clinics in Texas. Some of the clinics filed suit quickly after Republicans passed the law in 2013 on the grounds it places an “undue” burden on women’s access to abortion.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1992 states may not unduly burden access to abortion, including with “unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion.” But a federal appeals court in June sided with Texas lawmakers who argued the requirements strengthen women’s health and do not unduly restrict access to abortion.
The pro-life movement has benefited from similar laws across the country that have dramatically reduced the number of abortion clinics in many states. Demand for abortions has dropped in nearly every state since 2010, and declined by about 12 percent nationwide, which pro-life activists attribute to these restrictive laws.
It’s also possible Justice Anthony Kennedy will side with the four liberal justices on the court — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kaga — and strike down the law. Kennedy joined them in June to rule the law cannot take effect until the Supreme Court issues a ruling.
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