Court Decision Could Profoundly Affect State Rules on Abortion

Posted November 13, 2015 at 1:50pm

The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a case challenging strict measures in Texas’ anti-abortion law.

The court will hear arguments in the spring and rule by the end of June in a case that could have nationwide implications for how much states can regulate abortion providers. The court had previously put the Texas law on hold.

Abortion providers say the provisions, if they go into effect, will have the most devastating abortion restrictions since Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 case establishing abortion as a constitutional right.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans ruled that states may require abortion clinics to meet standards for ambulatory surgical centers, and that physicians at those providers have admissions privileges at a nearby hospital.

Abortion providers, in an appeal to the Supreme Court to strike down the 2013 Texas law, argued that the costs of compliance would leave as few as 10 abortion clinics in Texas and make it more costly to travel farther or stay overnight for a procedure.

The Supreme Court will consider whether states can skirt constitutional protections by making it virtually impossible for women to get an abortion, the National Women’s Law Center said. The justices will decide whether the Texas law imposes an undue burden on that right.

“Forty years after the Supreme Court guaranteed women the right to an abortion, it’s time for the court to stop these efforts by some politicians that threaten women’s ability to make these most personal decisions about their lives, health and futures,” Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the center, said in a written statement.

Said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a written statement that the case is about more than Texas.

“These deceptive laws, designed to close clinics, exist in 44 states and the District of Columbia, so make no mistake – this is not just about Texas,” Hogue said. “It’s about undermining the fundamental human rights of women all over this country.”

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote in June, agreed to block the Texas law from being implemented until the end of the Supreme Court appeal. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented in that decision. The June order did not include any other statements from the justices.

Texas had urged the Supreme Court not to review the case, saying the two controversial provisions will “raise the standard of care of all abortion patients.”

Texas’ brief said that “every metropolitan area with an abortion facility operating today in Texas will still have an operating abortion facility” if the law goes into effect. The state’s attorneys said there is no evidence that women will face any materially different travel distances to obtain an abortion under the Fifth Circuit’s ruling.

The case is Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, Docket No. 15-274.