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Supreme Court Strikes Down Controversial Texas Abortion Law

On Monday morning the Supreme Court announced a 5-3 decision striking down a Texas law that restricted the operations of abortion clinics in the state. Justice Steven Breyer wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

At issue in the Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt case was a slate of new regulations passed by the Texas legislature in 2013 that would treat abortion clinics like full-scale hospitals. It would require clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and meet standards for surgical hospitals, effectively forcing many of them to shut down. The law succeeded on that front, as more than half the abortion clinics in Texas did close following the law’s implementation.

Abortion providers challenged the law in federal court, claiming that the law’s stated intent, to protect the mental and physical health of women, was merely a facade meant to disguise its true purpose: to make getting an abortion much more difficult. The Supreme Court agreed with the challengers, stating that the new Texas regulations did in fact pose an “undue burden” on women trying to get an abortion, thus violating the precedent established by the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

As Justice Breyer wrote:

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 pre-viability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution.

In dissent, Justice Alito wrote that the law did in fact address the health and safety of women:

The law was one of many enacted by states in the wake of the Kermit Gosnell scandal, in which a physician who ran an abortion clinic in Philadelphia was convicted for the first degree murder of three infants who were born alive and for the manslaughter of a patient.

The decision will have ramifications on many similar regulations, commonly known as TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers), in many southern states and others across the country. It is likely the Supreme Court’s most important abortion-related ruling since 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which established the role of fetal viability in determining abortion laws.

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