On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down the latest in a long series of attempts by lawmakers in Texas and elsewhere to restrict abortion under the guise of protecting women’s health.
Texas’ 2013 law required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and clinics were required to be held to the same standard as surgical centers. Neither provision, the court ruled, 5-3, would protect women’s health. Their effect, instead, would be to sharply curtail access to abortion for women in Texas.
“We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer. “Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a … abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the Federal Constitution.”
For abortion opponents, this decision will sting. Its strong language comes straight out of the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision by the Rehnquist court that many conservatives cite as among the modern court’s darkest days, given that a conservative majority could have but did not overturn Roe v. Wade.
But sting or no sting, Monday’s outcome was expected. Even before Texas’ law went into effect, a federal judge in Texas blocked it as being unconstitutional on its face. And when it finally came to trial, evidence gathered over four days revealed that neither of the provisions would advance women’s health.
Instead, many women throughout Texas, especially poor women and those living in rural areas, would see their access to safe, legal abortions guaranteed by the Constitution practically eliminated, the evidence at the trial revealed.
So the decision to vindicate the original federal judge’s decision is no surprise. In doing so, the justices sharply rebuked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a fundamental error in understanding the tests that the Constitution places on any legislation that reduces access to legal abortions. And the justices also ruled that the appeals court had wholly erred when it attempted to rely on technicalities of civil procedure to prevent this suit from proceeding.
Forty-three years have passed since Roe v. Wade was first decided. Abortion remains a sharply divisive issue for all of us, and perhaps it always will be. Perhaps, even, it should be. No one can take lightly the decision to end a pregnancy, and the majority of women who avail themselves of abortions do not do so.
But our courts have spoken again and again across more than four decades and multiple generations. In this country, women have the right to choose whether to end their pregnancies.
It is time for Texas lawmakers to end their machinations aimed at limiting that right, whether couched in concern for women’s health or not. Their efforts would be better aimed at creating laws that make it easier for women to carry pregnancies to term and to raise their children.