The Supreme Court took up abortion rights on Wednesday for the first time in almost a decade, in a case that will decide whether certain state rules for doctors and clinics ultimately get in the way of a woman terminating a pregnancy when she chooses. “My mom fought for Roe v Wade in the 1970s, and now here we are… still fighting about abortion, it’s ridiculous”.
If there is evidence new clinics that meet the state’s regulations have increased capacity to perform abortions, it would show the law has provided a “beneficial effect”, Kennedy said.
The state contends the Republican-backed 2013 law protects women’s health.
Under the law, abortion clinics must meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers and doctors providing abortion services must have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Focusing on the law’s rationale, as opposed to its practical consequences (which remain uncertain), does not bode well for its supporters. As usual, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas did not ask any questions. Stein says a 4-4 vote could sustain the lower court’s ruling and allow the restrictive law to go into effect.
The key vote here, as in all abortion cases, is the moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy. She said abortion is safer than many other medical procedures that are not as strictly regulated.
If Kennedy and the Court’s liberal justices strike down part of the law, the 5-3 decision could implicate similar abortion restrictions imposed by conservative legislatures in other states. Chief Justice John Roberts was likewise skeptical that the law was forcing clinics to shutter: “What is the evidence in the record that the closures are related to the legislation?” But if undue burden is just a question of individual women being able to get an abortion of some kind, then a different sort of evidence would be needed.
The Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments Wednesday in a controversial Texas case regulating abortion clinics, as thousands rallied on the court steps.
The women on the Supreme Court seemed especially skeptical of Texas abortion restrictions in oral arguments in Whole Women’s Health vs. Hellerstedt on Wednesday, repeatedly asking why abortion was being singled out for extra constraints when more unsafe outpatient medical procedures are not.
Mr. Keller, advocating on behalf of Texas for the Court to uphold the Fifth Circuit’s decision, said the women of Texas would still be served by 10 of the remaining clinics in the state. But they’re divided on whether the new jurist should have a conservative or a liberal sway.
The three women justices pushed back on that point, with Justice Kagan highlighting research cited by the plaintiff showing that with fewer than a dozen abortion providers left in the state, more than a million of Texas women will live more than 100 miles away, and many would be even more distant.
“If you do find that this law is upheld, what you will be saying is that this right really only exists in theory and not in fact going forward” said Verrilli, referring to the right of abortion, “and that the commitments that this Court made in Casey will not have been kept”. It’s also possible the justices will hold on to the Texas case until next summer or longer, awaiting confirmation of the new justice to fill the ninth seat.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not buy that argument because she said Gosnell was a lawbreaker whose clinic had not been inspected for more than 15 years, but Texas has aggressively inspected clinics and has found nothing like the Gosnell case.
Separately, the justices also are mulling an emergency appeal from clinics in Louisiana.