SCOTUS Axes Texas Abortion Law

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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The Supreme Court struck down two Texas abortion regulations Monday.

In a 5-3 ruling written by Justice Stephen Breyer, the Court found that the Texas regulations manifested an undue burden on a woman’s right to access abortion services. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the opinion. Justice Samuel Alito dissented, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas also filed his own dissent, and Ginsburg wrote a concurring opinion.

At issue in the first case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was a Texas law called H.B. 2, which placed two restrictions on all Texas abortion providers. The law required that all abortionists have admitting privileges at a hospital not more than 30 miles away from the facility where an abortion is being performed, and that all abortion clinics host facilities equal to an outpatient surgical center. While the state of Texas argued the law is designed to ensure quality care for women effectuating their reproductive rights, critics charge it is an attempt to further reduce the number of abortion clinics in the state. (RELATED: Pro-Choice Activists Are REALLY Worried About This Supreme Court Case)

The law was judged against criterion laid out by the Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey which, while affirming the central holding of Roe v. Wade was still good law, authorized states to levy restrictions on abortion providing they do no manifest an “undue burden” on women seeking access to reproductive health care. Since then, states around the country have established a wide spectrum of abortion regulations, designed to test the exact meaning of “undue burden” in federal courts.

The case came to the high court by way of the Fifth Circuit, which found that Texas’ new regulations did not constitute an undue burden. The Supreme Court disagreed.

“Both the admitting-privileges and the surgical-center requirements place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violate the Constitution,” the decision read.

The Court also greeted Texas’ argument that the measures were promulgated in furtherance of quality care for women with skepticism.

“We have found nothing in Texas’ record evidence that shows that, compared to prior law (which required a ‘working arrangement’ with a doctor with admitting privileges), the new law advanced Texas’ legitimate interest in protecting women’s health,” the Court wrote.

In dissent, Alito accused the majority of politically motivated audacity. “If anything, when a case involves a controversial issue, we should be especially careful to be scrupulously neutral in applying such rules,” he wrote. “The Court has not done so here. On the contrary, de­termined to strike down two provisions of a new  Texas abortion statute in all of their applications, the Court simply disregards basic rules that apply in all other cases.”

Some 60,000 to 75,000 abortions are performed in Texas each year. There are approximately 10 abortion clinics remaining in the state.

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