The Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision Monday, struck down a Texas law regulating abortion clinics as an undue burden on the constitutional right to an abortion.
It is the first substantive Supreme Court ruling on abortion since 2007 and means clinics won’t have to close in Texas, which had some of the most restrictive provisions in the country. It also has consequences for millions of women in Texas and in more than a dozen states with similar laws.
The Texas law requires abortion clinics to meet standards for ambulatory surgical centers, and requires physicians at the facilities to have admissions privileges at a nearby hospital. State officials said it was enacted as a legitimate interest in women’s health.
But abortion providers said the cost of adhering to the law would force so many Texas clinics to shut down that it effectively denied women the right to have an abortion.
The majority opinion, written by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, found the health benefits of the law don’t justify regulations that create an undue burden on the constitutional right to an abortion established by the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.
“We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,” the majority opinion states. “Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access … and each violates the federal Constitution.”
Joining the majority were the other liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, and the conservative swing vote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the ruling vindicated women’s constitutional rights.
“The Supreme Court sent a loud and clear message that politicians cannot use deceptive means to shut down abortion clinics,” Northup said in a statement.
A dissent written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., criticized the majority for going out of its way to strike down the Texas law and cautioned that refusing to apply the law in a neutral way “will undermine public confidence in the court as a fair and neutral arbiter.”
“The constitutionality of laws regulating abortion is one of the most controversial issues in American law, but this case does not require us to delve into that contentious dispute,” Alito wrote.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement that the law was an effort to improve minimum safety standards and ensure capable care for Texas women.
“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,” Paxton said.