Supreme Court strikes down Texas abortion law – what that means for other states


The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that regulates abortion clinics – a win for women's health advocates and abortion clinics nationwide.

The case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, was described as the most important abortion case put before the highest court in decades.

The Texas law

Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt dealt with a Texas law called HB 2 (yes, the same name as the North Carolina bathroom law), which passed in 2013. It regulated abortion clinics with two key provisions:

  • It required abortion doctors to get admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.
  • And it was going to require abortion clinics to undergo costly upgrades, which would make the clinics resemble mini hospitals or surgical centers. (This hadn't gone into effect yet.)

Supporters of the measure said the regulations help reduce health risks and increase safety.

But opponents said they forced smaller abortion clinics to close (the number of clinics dropped from 42 to 19 after the admitting privileges provision went into effect). Women's health advocates also argued that the laws limited a woman's access to safe abortions – especially in rural areas of the state.

It's unconstitutional, court says

The Supreme Court, in a 5-3 vote, ruled that those two key provisions of HB 2 violated a woman's constitutional right to obtain an abortion.

Justice Stephen Breyer delivered the opinion Monday, writing "the surgical-center requirement, like the admitting privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions and constitutes an 'undue burden' on their constitutional right to do so."

A Supreme Court ruling in 1992 – Planned Parenthood v. Casey – says states can't implement abortion laws that place an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions.

"Today women across the nation have had their constitutional rights vindicated. The Supreme Court sent a loud and clear message that politicians cannot use deceptive means to shut down abortion clinics," Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a news release.

The impact for non-Texas states

Planned Parenthood says the Supreme Court's decision will likely ensure stronger constitutional protections for access to abortions around the country.

It could also affect some regulations put on abortion clinics in other states, Planned Parenthood says. There are three states with similar requirements, including Missouri, North Dakota and Tennessee, The Associated Press reports, while six states have admitting-privilege requirements on hold. Those states: Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker approved regulations for abortion clinics similar to those in Texas, but they were struck down by a federal appeals court last fall, pending the outcome of the Supreme Court case, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Monday's ruling "fuels speculation" that the appeals court ruling will likely be upheld, The Cap Times reports.

In North Dakota, the Supreme Court's decision reduces the "legislative threats" to close the one abortion clinic in the state, located in Fargo, Renee Stromme, the executive director of the North Dakota Women's Network, said, according to Reuters and Forum News Service.

How about in Minnesota?

Minnesota doesn’t have either of the rules Texas brought in three years ago, but that doesn't 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.

Anti-abortion activists respond

The Supreme Court's ruling wasn't cheered by all. The Pro-Life Action League released a statement Monday, saying:

"It is shameful to see a majority of the Supreme Court sacrificing public health and safety to prop up the abortion industry in Texas. If this case were about anything other than abortion, this law would have been upheld. Indeed, it would never have been challenged. Only the abortion industry balks at adhering to the same standards considered routine by legitimate health care providers."

The National Right to Life group, which is the nation's oldest anti-abortion group, also issued a statement about the decision:

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