Big Win for Women’s Rights! Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Restrictions on Abortion Provider Law

by on June 27, 2016 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Health, History, Organizing, Politics, Women's Rights

supreme court building“Today women across the nation have had their constitutional rights vindicated.” —Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights

By Doug Porter

The Supreme Court’s 5-3 ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will affect millions of women in several states. The case, arising from a Texas law, is the most important abortion rights case in a generation.

Justice Steven Breyer penned the majority opinion, which said in essence:

Both the admitting privileges and surgical center requirements place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violate the Constitution.

In a nutshell, the ruling amounts to a blow against the strategy being employed by social conservatives known by the acronym TRAP – Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers.

These TARP laws are among the more than 200 restrictions on abortion passed by state legislatures around the country in the last five years. Using model legislation crafted by Americans United for Life (AUL), a Washington-based anti-abortion organization, legislatures have singled out the medical practices of doctors who provide abortions and imposed requirements more burdensome than those for other medical practices.

Far More Dangerous for Patients

The Center for Reproductive Rights concluded:

Abortion Law

Image via Planned Parenthood Action

These excessive and unnecessary government regulations – an ever-growing trend among state legislatures – increase the cost and scarcity of abortion services, harming women’s health and inhibiting their reproductive choices.

These laws jeopardize women’s access to safe, legal, high-quality reproductive health care and represent a backdoor attempt by politicians to end legal abortion access.

They are typically enacted based on the false pretext of protecting women’s health and safety, but have a clear ulterior motive of making it more difficult to provide abortion services and thus more difficult for women to obtain such services. For example, at the time Governor Phil Bryant signed Mississippi’s admitting privileges bill into law in 2012, he declared “Today you see the first step in a movement to … try and end abortion in Mississippi.”

Leading medical associations have gone on record opposing TRAP requirements. For example, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) oppose a Texas law requiring abortion facilities to meet ambulatory surgical facilities requirements and physicians providing abortion services to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. In a court brief, those two leading medical associations argued that the Texas law “does not serve the health of women in Texas but instead jeopardizes women’s health by restricting access to abortion providers.”

Justice Ruth Ginsberg wrote a concurring opinion for the court’s decision, pointing out that

Via Whole Women's Health

Via Whole Women’s Health

Many medical procedures, including childbirth, are far more dangerous to patients, yet are not subject to ambulatory surgical-center or hospital admitting-privileges requirements.

And comparing statistics on risks for abortion with tonsillectomy, colonoscopy, and in-office dental surgery, she went on to say:

Given those realities, it is beyond rational belief that H. B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law “would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.”

From the Washington Post coverage:

The justices were applying a test the court formulated nearly 25 years ago. It said states had a legitimate interest in regulating abortion procedures but could not make them so onerous as to impose an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability.

Included in the description of such a burden was “unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion.”

Abortion rights advocates hailed the decision. Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said: “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.”

A Real-Life Crisis for Women

While most women’s advocates hailed the ruling as a victory for women’s health, the Texas officials (mostly men, by the way) responsible for the legislation continued to claim that it was they who were acting in women’s best interests.

Here’s the real-life impact of their so-called women’s health laws, via Think Progress:

Via Public Health Watch

Via Public Health Watch

This is having a huge impact on Texans’ abortion access, of course, but it’s also affecting other aspects of reproductive health care. Many of the clinics that have been forced to close in the aftermath of HB 2 also provided family planning and cancer prevention services. Coupled with deep cuts to Texas’ family planning safety net, these clinic closures have left some women — particularly low-income immigrant women who can’t move freely past the state’s internal border checkpoints — unable to get birth control or have regular Pap smears.

As women’s options are limiting, some of them are turning to dangerous alternatives. There’s been a demonstrative increase in the number of women trying to induce their own abortion, according to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, which estimates that between 100,000 and 240,000 women have resorted to this option. Some of those women are crossing the Mexico border to buy abortion-inducing medication on the black market. Others are trying out more harmful methods of ending a pregnancy, like asking someone to punch them in the stomach.

The situation is reminiscent of the days before Roe v. Wade, when desperate women resorted to back alley abortions. “It was like we were back in the days of the Wild West, like we have to figure this out by ourselves and just grit our teeth and get through it,” one Texas woman who had an illegal abortion two years ago, at the age of 23, told Reuters.


This is an excerpt from Doug Porter’s column at our associated SDFP.


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