Supreme Court strikes down Texas abortion clinic regulations

Texas had argued that its 2013 law and subsequent regulations were needed to protect women's health

This Oct. 13, 2015, photo shows the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV/AP) — The Supreme Court struck down Texas’ widely replicated regulation of abortion clinics Monday in the court’s biggest abortion case in nearly a quarter century.

The justices voted 5-3 in favor of Texas clinics that had argued the regulations were a thinly veiled attempt to make it harder for women to get an abortion in the nation’s second-most populous state.

Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion for the court held that the regulations are medically unnecessary and unconstitutionally limit a woman’s right to an abortion.

Texas had argued that its 2013 law and subsequent regulations were needed to protect women’s health. The rules required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and forced clinics to meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery.

Breyer wrote that “the surgical-center requirement, like the admitting privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions and constitutes an ‘undue burden’ on their constitutional right to do so.”

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Breyer.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Thomas wrote that the decision “exemplifies the court’s troubling tendency ‘to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue.'” Thomas was quoting an earlier abortion dissent from Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.

Abortion providers said the rules would have cut the number of abortion clinics in the state by three-fourths if they had been allowed to take full effect.

“The case looked at very burdensome restrictions on women and providers, and on healthcare clinics,” said Iris Harvey with Planned Parenthood in Youngstown. “Certainly this is a good day for women’s reproductive rights and the ability to make decisions personally, with their family, with their doctor and with their faith.”

When then-Gov. Rick Perry signed the law in 2013, there were about 40 clinics throughout Texas. That number dropped to under 20 and would have been cut in half again if the law had taken full effect, the clinics said.

Texas is among ten states with similar admitting privileges requirements, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. The requirement is in effect in most of Texas, Missouri, North Dakota and Tennessee. It is on hold in Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

The hospital-like outpatient surgery standards are in place in Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and it is blocked in Tennessee and Texas, according to the center, which represented the clinics in the Texas case.

Dave Schmidt with the Youngstown Diocese said he was perplexed that in the name of women’s health, those standards have been thrown out.

“Common sense standards of safety that are used throughout the entire health care industry,” he said. “We want to remind people that there are children’s lives who are tragically lost and there are people who have deep hurts after being involved with abortion.”

Texas passed a broad bill imposing several abortion restrictions in 2013. Texas clinics sued immediately to block it, claiming it impermissibly interfered with a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. The clinics won several favorable rulings in a federal district court in Texas. But each time, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state, at first allowing challenged provisions to take effect and then upholding the law with only slight exceptions.

The Supreme Court allowed the admitting privileges requirement to take effect in most of the state, but put the surgical center provision on hold pending the court’s resolution of the case.

The justices split largely along liberal-conservative lines in their emergency orders, with the court’s conservative justices voting repeatedly to let the law be enforced.

Separate lawsuits are pending over admitting-privileges laws in Louisiana and Mississippi, the other states covered by the 5th circuit. The laws are on hold in both states, and a panel of federal appellate judges has concluded the Mississippi law probably is unconstitutional because it would force the only abortion clinic in the state to close.

A separate appeal is pending at the Supreme Court from Wisconsin, where federal judges have struck down that state’s admitting privileges law.


Congressman Tim Ryan released a statement following the ruling:

I applaud the Supreme Court for recognizing that this law did nothing to protect women’s health, but instead created an undue burden on women seeking abortions in Texas. It should not matter what state you live in, women in all 50 states should have access to quality and safe healthcare. This 5-3 ruling is the most significant decision from the Supreme Court on abortion in decades. The decision protects abortion clinics nationwide and signals enduring trust in women and families.

This ruling reinforces that the heavy hand of government must not make this decision for women and families. We must get past the ignorance, fear, and—yes—discrimination against women that lead to restrictions on contraception and age-appropriate sex education. Only then can we hope to continue to make significant advances in what should be our true, shared objective: reducing the number of unintended pregnancies, which make up the vast majority of abortions. This is not a partisan issue, but instead a personal one. This decision is a major victory for families around the country, but the fight continues.

In 2014, 20,000 Ohioans had abortions; the last year for which there are statistics. The county breakdowns show they were the lowest figures in the last ten years.

The office of Ohio’s Attorney General referred all calls to the Department of Health, saying that agency will determine the impact of the ruling on Ohio.

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