The Supreme Court, in a surprise 5-3 decision Monday morning, struck down highly restrictive Texas regulations that would have closed most abortion clinics in the state. The decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt means a lower court’s decision upholding the law is reversed.
“We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion. “Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access.”
Breyer continued blasting away at the law, which was practically all but an explicit ban on abortion.
“More fundamentally, in the face of no threat to women’s health, Texas seeks to force women to travel long distances to get abortions in crammed-to-capacity superfacilities.”
The law, known as HB2, had required abortion providers in the state to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers; required clinics to be within 30 miles of a hospital; and requires abortion doctors have admitting privileges at those hospitals. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found the law does not place an “undue burden” on women’s reproductive rights because the state has proved it has a compelling interest in regulating clinics to protect women’s health. The court disagreed. The stringent requirements would have the effect of closing most abortion providers in Texas. Several other states, including neighboring Louisiana, sought to enact similar laws.
Justice Alito wrote the main dissenting opinion and said it was not about abortion.
"The constitutionality of laws regulating abortion is one of the most controversial issues in American law, but this case does not require us to delve into that contentious dispute," he wrote, adding the Court should have denied the appeal on procedural grounds.
Justice Clarence Thomas, in a dissenting opinion, said the decision “perpetuates the court’s habit of applying different rules to different constitutional rights—especially the putative right to abortion.”