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Texas Solicitor General Scott A. Keller insisted the law is for women’s own protection, and that in some parts of the state women can access nearby clinics – in New Mexico. At one point, he suggested the court might want to send the case back to a trial judge in Texas to provide more evidence on the impact of the state’s restrictions.
“Justice Kennedy was going to be critical when we had Justice Scalia on the court”.
The court was shorthanded with only eight justices following the February 13 death of conservative Antonin Scalia, leaving the liberals and conservatives evenly divided. Who is arguing what in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt? Three conservative justices remain, and will likely uphold the law.
The ruling in the case is due by the end of June. This means that there is a possibility that the court could end up in a 4 to 4 split.
If the law is allowed to stand, the 10 remaining clinics will be centered in four metropolitan areas, Houston, Dallas Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio.
Abortion providers say the law has caused 22 of 41 clinics to close, but the state contests those numbers.
Meanwhile, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., appointees of former President George W. Bush, led the defense of the Texas law.
The court’s liberals and conservatives are signaling in almost 90 minutes of arguments that there’s little common ground as they try to figure out what to do about rules that Texas says are aimed at promoting women’s health. He noted the number of medical abortions in Texas has increased relative to surgical abortions – the opposite of the national trend.
Keller replied that more than 210 women had to be hospitalized as a result of complications from abortion in a recent year. In cases like these, women would be more likely to seek help from a hospital near them rather than at the clinic where they had an abortion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, pointing out that a requirement to have doctor admitting privileges would have limited help in cases like these.
“What was the problem the legislature was responding to that it needed to improve the facilities for women’s health?”.
The abortion providers also challenged a provision, not yet in effect, that require clinics to possess hospital-grade facilities with standards for corridor width, plumbing, parking spaces, room size, the spacing of beds and many other attributes.
According to Seago, “We saw the liberal justices, whom we expect to oppose this legislation, really trying to change the role of the Court” by reviewing the medical evidence for the law themselves – a role normally reserved to the Legislature. The U.S. Supreme Court could decide whether states can pass regulations making legal abortions hard to obtain. Such a ruling would be a huge victory for supporters of abortion rights since the two landmark cases: Roe v Wade, which legalized abortion in 1973, and Casey, which set the current rules for restrictions in 1992.
Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out that Texas had reported few complications from abortion before the law was passed and asked whether there would be “more women or fewer women who die because of complications from abortions” after these restrictions.