The Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Texas abortion law that required clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers and forced doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
The 5-3 decision is seen as a major victory for abortion rights advocates who said this was the most significant abortion rights case in decades.
“We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,” the court wrote in its majority opinion in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. “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.”
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was the swing vote, enabling the court to produce a landmark case despite having only eight sitting justices since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February. President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland in March to fill the seat but Senate Republicans have refused to consider his nomination until after the presidential election.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer delivered Monday’s majority opinion. Besides Kennedy, he was joined by the court’s other three liberal justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
, a political science professor at American University and founder of the
Women and Politics Institute
, called Monday’s decision “seismic,” saying it was a greater victory than even Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1992 court ruling that upheld a woman’s right to an abortion but allowed for some regulations.
“Casey was an invitation to states to implement restrictions on abortions,” she said. “As of today, the restrictive laws of 26 states [are] effectively unconstitutional.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. dissented from the majority opinion, along with Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.
In his dissent, Thomas wrote that Monday’s decision “perpetuates the court’s habit of applying different rules to different constitutional rights — especially the putative right to abortion.”
“Our law is now so riddled with special exceptions for special rights that our decisions deliver neither predictability nor the promise of a judiciary bound by the rule of law,” Thomas wrote.
Alito attacked the decision for failing to apply the judicial process “in a neutral fashion in all cases, regardless of the subject of the suit.”
Texas officials said the law was enacted as a legitimate interest in women’s health. But abortion providers said it would force so many Texas clinics to shut down that it would effectively deny women the right to have an abortion. A 4-4 tie on the Court would have left in place an appeals court ruling allowing the law to stand. The decision sets a national precedent and could prevent other states from enacting similar restrictions.
“It is a precedent-setting day,” said Michele Jawando, vice president for legal progress at the Center for American Progress. “This is a statement to all the other states that they can’t put up these kinds of restrictions that are just in place to stop women from getting an abortion.”
On Twitter, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, called the decision “a victory for women in Texas and across America.”
SCOTUS’s decision is a victory for women in Texas and across America. Safe abortion should be a right—not just on paper, but in reality. -H
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 27, 2016
This fight isn’t over: The next president has to protect women’s health. Women won’t be “punished” for exercising their basic rights. -H
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 27, 2016
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.
But 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.
Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life, saw Monday’s decision in a very different light.
“Women lost today,” she said. “Every time a woman seeks an abortion, she will wonder if the facility is clean. She will wonder if the abortionist has the necessary credentials to local hospitals in case of emergency.”
O’Connor, the American University professor, said that more abortion clinics will open up because of Monday’s decision but the ruling did not end the issue.
“It is not an end to restrictions,” she said. “As long as there is a strong pro-life movement, there will be state and local laws trying to limit women’s access to abortions.”
The final day of the Supreme Court’s term was dominated by the issue.
A few hundred protesters, on both sides, lined the sidewalks, chanting and dancing to Beyonce, and holding up signs that read: “I don’t want to be trapped in 1973,” and “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries.”
Pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion demonstrators competed with their chants, waving their signs to best position them for the cameras.
Abortion rights groups screamed, “Stop the sham,” to indicate that the restrictions are not about protecting women’s health but about stoping as many abortions as possible.
Such restrictions create an undue burden on women’s access to abortion Jawando said shortly before the decision came down.
“In the last five years pro-life politicians have been putting up the greatest restrictions against a woman’s right to chose since Roe v. Wade,” she said.
Hawkins brought about 100 protesters to support the Texas regulations.
“We have been out here all night,” Hawkins said. “The other side brought a lot of people because they are nervous.”
“Women shouldn’t die getting an abortion. They don’t even understand the case. It is all about their bottom line and not about protecting women,” she said.