Texas Law Restricting Abortion Access Faces Supreme Court Challenge


On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to Texas’ controversial abortion law, which impedes women’s access to abortion in the Lone Star State. Provisions in the Texas law, signed by former Governor Rick Perry (R) in 2013, have led to the state shutting down 23 of the 41 clinics that were performing abortions.

Eight more are likely to close soon, which would leave the state with just 10 clinics. Women living in the Texas panhandle and in West Texas would be hundreds of miles from the nearest in-state abortion provider.

If the Supreme Court follows judicial precedent they should find reason to reverse Texas’ anti-abortion legislation. A 1992 ruling in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey asserted that states cannot place undue burdens on the constitutional right to abortion before fetal viability.

The court defined those burdens as ”unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion.” By that standard, the Texas law clearly appears to be unconstitutional.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) urged the Supreme Court not to hear the case. Using a boiler plate conservative argument against “judicial activism”, Paxton argued that the court should not choose to become “the country’s ex officio medical board with powers to approve or disapprove medical and operative practices and standards throughout the United States.”

The Supreme Court has not agreed to hear an abortion case in eight years, so the implications from their ruling on Texas’ abortion law could also have a significant impact on laws in other states that have tried to limit women’s access to abortion.

How the court will decide to rule is unclear. Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito are almost certain to side with the Texas law and Justice Roberts would probably be expected to as well. On the other side of the ideological divide, Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor would be likely to view Texas’ law as too restrictive. As is often the case, such a divide would leave the fate of Texas women in the hands of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on the court. For the sake of Texas women, and women in other states as well, hopefully Kennedy will arrive at a sensible opinion that does not hinder women from having a choice.

Keith Brekhus

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