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How the abortion case before the Supreme Court could impact America

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The Supreme Court of the United States is on Wednesday hearing what commentators are describing as the most important abortion case put before it in decades.

The court will hear oral arguments in the case of Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a challenge relating to abortion rights stemming from Texas.

Whole Woman's Health has objected to a law passed in 2013 that has resulted in more than half of the state's abortion clinics shut down, restricting access for the 5.4 million women in Texas of reproductive age, the Guardian reports.

Should the Supreme Court (which is currently down to eight members following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia) rule against Woman's Health, it could have a major impact on abortion rights across the country.

What is the case about?

In 2013, the state of Texas passed a law that imposed strict requirements on abortion providers, stipulating that: All abortion doctors have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic; and clinic buildings, staffing and facilities must meet the standards of "ambulatory surgical centers" (i.e. hospitals).

Whole Woman's Health argues this is in contravention of the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which ruled that states could not implement abortion laws that place an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions.

The requirement that clinics meet hospital-like standards has not yet been enacted in Texas, but already the number of abortion clinics has reduced from 42 to 19 as a result of the "admitting privileges" stipulation, with this number likely to fall to just 10 if the law is upheld by the Supreme Court.

Deseret News points out that because abortions don't tend to result in complications requiring hospital care, doctors who carry them out don't admit enough patients to local hospitals to qualify for admitting privileges. The Guardian says hospitals aren't required to grant privileges, and hospitals that do typically require at least 10 admissions a year.

Supporters of the Texas law say the provisions protect the health and safety of women, while opponents – many of them from the medical profession – call them "unnecessary" and "harmful" to women's health, according to NPR.

What could the impact be for Minnesota?

A ruling that doesn't favor Woman's Health could open up other states to more proposed bills restricting abortion, while those already established in other states could become more enforceable.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, for example, approved both of the rules for abortion clinics being discussed in this case, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports these were struck down immediately by a U.S. District Court Judge for being unconstitutional, and remain unenforceable until the outcome of this Supreme Court case.

North Dakota meanwhile only has one abortion clinic, in Fargo, which in November settled a lawsuit it filed against the state's own admitting privileges law after its doctors were credentialed by Sanford Health's Fargo hospital, the Pioneer Press notes.

Minnesota doesn't have either of the rules Texas brought in three years ago, but that's not to mean there haven't been attempts to restrict access to abortions.

In 2012, the Star Tribune reported Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a bill that would have required the state to license any clinic that provides 10 or more abortions a month, which he said would have imposed "inappropriate and unworkable" new requirements on the clinics.

He was also critical of the language in the bill, saying the requirements were such that complaints could have been filed against the clinic "for almost any reason," the newspaper said.

Opponents of the laws say the ultimate goal of the supporters is to strip away abortion access with a view to the eventual full repeal of Roe v. Wade (1973), which according to PBS ruled it was unconstitutional for a state to ban abortion except to save the life of the mother.

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