Three years ago, Republican officials in Texas approved some of the nation’s most aggressive restrictions on reproductive rights, which had the effect of closing more than half of the state’s clinics where abortions are performed. As of this morning, as NBC News’ Pete Williams reported, the law is no more.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down one of the nation’s toughest restrictions on abortion, a Texas law that women’s groups said would have forced more than three-quarters of the state’s clinics to shut down. The decision was 5-3. […][T]he law said clinics providing abortion services must meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers. And it required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
The decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt is online here. Note, Justice Breyer wrote the majority ruling, and he was joined by Justices Kennedy, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Ginsburg, who unexpectedly wrote a concurring opinion. Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Alito made up the three-member minority.
While Justice Scalia’s death has had a significant impact on a variety of key cases this term, the Texas case doesn’t appear to be one of them: facing a five-member majority, the state restrictions were doomed either way.
The legal dispute has been described as “the most momentous abortion case in a quarter century” for good reason.
In March, MSNBC’s Irin Carmon published a helpful overview that explained why this case matters so much.
Texas, like many of its neighbors, has imposed on abortion clinics new standards that are so difficult for the clinics to meet that a majority of them will be or have been forced to close. Doctors must have admitting privileges at local hospitals, something they say many hospitals have been reluctant to supply out of opposition to abortion or fear of controversy. Abortions must take place in an ambulatory surgical center, a cavernous, multimillion-dollar facility for a procedure that involves no incision and in many cases involves taking a couple of pills. […]The state of Texas claims it is within its legal rights to regulate clinics for the sake of women’s health. The abortion clinics that brought the case counter that the low complication rate and existing regulations show the new law isn’t needed. “If these facilities were providing substandard care that posed a threat to patient health or safety, then Texas would be justified in shutting them down,” attorneys for the clinics wrote in a brief to the court. “But they have a long record of providing safe abortion care, which [Texas officials] do not dispute.”
As we discussed at the time, for the clinics, this case is largely about exposing a sham: Texas Republicans imposed outrageous and unnecessary regulations, not to advance public health, but to curtail women’s access to legal abortions.
Indeed, even this morning, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton continued to argue that the state law “was an effort to improve minimum safety standards and ensure capable care for Texas women.” He added in a statement, “It’s exceedingly unfortunate that the court has taken the ability to protect women’s health out of the hands of Texas citizens and their duly-elected representatives.”
The high court’s majority recognized this argument as a fundamentally dishonest shellgame that created an undue burden on women in the Lone Star State. It’s a decision that will reverberate across the country.
Update: Texas kept up the pretense that the law was about protecting women’s health, but note this tidbit from the ruling: “We add that, when directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”