Texas abor­tion law tossed

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Abor­tion rights ac­tivists cheer out­side the Supreme Court in Wash­ing­ton on Mon­day af­ter the jus­tices struck down a Texas law plac­ing re­stric­tions on abor­tion clin­ics. In a case with far-reach­ing im­pli­ca­tions for mil­lions of women across the United States, the court ruled 5-3 to strike down mea­sures which ac­tivists say have forced more than half of Texas’ abor­tion clin­ics to close. The jus­tices re­jected the state’s ar­gu­ments that its 2013 law and fol­low-up reg­u­la­tions were needed to pro­tect women’s health. Thir­teen states have sim­i­lar re­quire­ments, en­acted as part of a wave of abor­tion re­stric­tions im­posed in re­cent years.

WASH­ING­TON — The Supreme Court is­sued its strong­est de­fense of abor­tion rights in a quar­ter-cen­tury Mon­day, strik­ing down Texas’ widely repli­cated rules that sharply re­duced abor­tion clin­ics in the na­tion’s sec­ond-most­pop­u­lous state.

By a 5-3 vote, the jus­tices re­jected the state’s ar­gu­ments that its 2013 law and fol­low-up 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.

The clin­ics that chal­lenged the law ar­gued that it was merely a veiled at­tempt to make it harder for women to get abor­tions by forc­ing the clo­sure of more than half the roughly 40 clin­ics that op­er­ated be­fore the law took ef­fect.

Jus­tice Stephen Breyer’s ma­jor­ity opin­ion for the court held that the reg­u­la­tions are med­i­cally un­nec­es­sary and un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally limit women’s right to abor­tions. 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.”

Thir­teen states have sim­i­lar re­quire­ments, en­acted as part of a wave of abor­tion re­stric­tions that states have im­posed in re­cent years. Oth­ers in­clude lim­its on when in a preg­nancy abor­tions may be per­formed and the use of drugs that in­duce abor­tions with­out sur­gi­cal in­ter­ven­tion.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, the owner of sev­eral Texas clin­ics among her eight fa­cil­i­ties in five states, pre­dicted that the de­ci­sion would “put a stop to this trend of copy­cat leg­is­la­tion.”

Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton said the law “was an ef­fort to im­prove min­i­mum safety stan­dards and en­sure ca­pa­ble care for Texas women. It’s ex­ceed­ingly un­for­tu­nate that the court has taken the abil­ity to pro­tect women’s health out of the hands of Texas cit­i­zens and their duly elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives.”

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

Gins­burg wrote a short opin­ion not­ing that laws like Texas’ “that do lit­tle or noth­ing for health, but rather strew im­ped­i­ments to abor­tion, can­not sur­vive ju­di­cial in­spec­tion” un­der the court’s ear­lier abor­tion-rights de­ci­sions. She pointed specif­i­cally to Roe vs. Wade in 1973 and Planned Par­ent­hood vs. Casey in 1992, of which Kennedy was one of three au­thors.

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. Scalia has not yet been re­placed, so only eight jus­tices voted.

Abor­tion providers said the rules would have cut the num­ber of abor­tion clin­ics in Texas to fewer than 10 if they had been al­lowed to take full ef­fect.

Man­del Ngan / AFP / Getty Im­ages

Al Drago / New York Times

Abor­tion rights sup­port­ers cel­e­brate the rul­ing out­side the Supreme Court in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

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