The Supreme Court just issued a 5-3 ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt and it’s a breath of fresh air.
The case called into question whether abortion doctors really needed hospital admitting privileges (they don’t) and whether abortion clinics needed to look like outpatient surgical centers (they don’t). Neither provision is essential to taking care of patients; they were basically roadblocks put up by Texas officials to prevent women from having access to abortions.
And that’s what the Court said today, calling both provisions an “undue burden” on women seeking to obtain legal abortions.
If the law remained in place, it would have left open only about 10 clinics in the entire state. It would force many women who need abortions to either drive long distances (and spend much more money in the process) or use unsafe, unconventional approaches. Goodbye, abortion clinic. Hello, back alley.
The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists both argued that the regulations “serve no medical purpose, interfere in the doctor/patient relationship, and do nothing to promote women’s health.”
Interestingly enough, the death of Justice Scalia proved to have no impact on the case given the 5-3 ruling, though there’s no telling if he could have persuaded the other justices to join him in dissent.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority:
We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. 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.…
We have found nothing in Texas’ record evidence that shows that, compared to prior law (which required a “working arrangement” with a doctor with admitting privileges), the new law advanced Texas’ legitimate interest in protecting women’s health.
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.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg added in a concurrence:
… 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.”
Justice Clarence Thomas said in an angry dissent that abortion isn’t a right in the first place:
… this case shows why the Court never should have bent the rules for favored rights in the first place. 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.
This suit is possible only because the Court has allowed abortion clinics and physicians to invoke a putative constitutional right that does not belong to them — a woman’s right to abortion.
… The Court has simultaneously transformed judicially created rights like the right to abortion into preferred constitutional rights, while disfavoring many of the rights actually enumerated in the Constitution.
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