In a 5-3 ruling on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court struck down Texas HB2, a bill that heavily regulated abortion providers and resulted in the closure of half of the state’s clinics. The Court determined that requiring clinics to qualify as surgery centers and ensuring abortion doctors have hospital admitting privileges at local hospitals places an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions.
Writing the majority opinion, Justice Breyer cites the preceding 1992 abortion case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, a case which asserts that “substantial obstacles” to abortion care are a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, qualifying as an arbitrary and illegal denial of liberty by the government. These obstacles are arbitrary because the Court, relying on medical research and expert testimony, found no related health benefits of the admitting privileges or surgical center requirements.
The Court concludes that these laws additionally result in lower quality abortion care for women, since the lower number of clinics would need to be able to serve all women in the state. Breyer agrees with an earlier District Court ruling on this issue, writing:
“Texas seeks to force women to travel long distances to get abortions in crammed-to-capacity superfacilities. Patients seeking these services are less likely to get the kind of individualized attention, serious conversation, and emotional support that doctors at less taxed facilities may have offered.”
According to the New York Times, states that pass have these TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider) Laws have more than doubled the distance to qualifying abortion clinics. Since its implementation in 2013, HB2 has cut the number of qualifying abortion clinics in Texas in half. If HB2 had been left in place, only 10 abortion clinics would have remained open in the state of Texas.
Although the fight for women’s right to abortion care is far from over, this ruling warrants that laws regulating abortion procedures will ensure maximum safety for patients and also challenges arbitrary state laws that provide no health benefits in abortion procedures. In her concurring opinion, Justice Ginsberg reiterates that abortion is a safe outpatient procedure and writes that it is “beyond rational belief that HB2 would genuinely protect women” and may in fact endanger women, since “women in desperate circumstances may resort to rogue practitioner at great risk to their health and safety” should these laws be kept in place.
Clearly, the best option for abortion is safe and legal access for all women.
For more of coverage of TRAP Laws, see our story.
Photo Credits: Flickr, Heather Ault