This morning, the Supreme Court struck down parts of a restrictive Texas law that could have reduced the number of abortion clinics in the state to about 10 from what was once a high of roughly 40.
The 5-to-3 decision was the court’s most sweeping statement on abortion rights since Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. It applied a skeptical and exacting version of that decision’s “undue burden” standard to find that the restrictions in Texas went too far.
The decision on Monday means that similar restrictions in other states are most likely also unconstitutional, and it imperils many other kinds of restrictions on abortion.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.
The decision concerned two parts of a Texas law that imposed strict requirements on abortion providers. It was passed by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature and signed into law in July 2013 by Rick Perry, the governor at the time.
One part of the law requires all clinics in the state to meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers, including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing. The other requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
“We conclude,” Justice Breyer wrote, “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.”
I’m not surprised by the outcome, nor am I surprised by swing justice Kennedy joining the “liberals” on the court. Frankly, the Texas restrictions were NOT intended to support women’s health. If you saw who proposed those restrictions (longtime Texas anti-abortion legislators) and listened to their rhetoric, “health of women” was a sham rationale. Their real objective was to make abortion clinics so regulated that they could not afford to make the required changes, and eventually close down. In fact, to date, twenty abortion clinics have closed down under those regulations.
So, yes, a victory, and it would have been a victory even if Scalia was alive and on the court. But it does underscore the importance of the election and who gets to pick the next justices.