Court sides with choice
The effort to suppress abortion rights is encountering one of the biggest setbacks in decades. A Supreme Court decision tossed out a Texas law aimed at shutting down clinics that offer the procedure.
The law was devised as an end run around Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 court decision that affirmed a woman’s right to abortion, and subsequent rulings. Foes refused to give up and devised a new strategy to regulate the procedure out of existence by requiring costly medical standards and extra clinic rules.
The ostensible pitch was safety and extra protections for women, but the intent was to deny access. With abortion rights already enshrined by the high court, opponents played up medical risk.
The court didn’t buy this strained argument in a 5-3 decision, with Justice Anthony Kennedy once again playing the swing role on the topic by joining a fourmember liberal bloc opposed by three conservative justices. The court’s missing ninth vote, created by the death of Antonin Scalia in February, wouldn’t have changed the outcome.
The Texas law put clinics in the category of surgical centers with more expensive equipment and elaborate layouts. The effect was to lay on costs that existing clinics couldn’t pay. The law also required that doctors have admitting privileges to nearby hospitals though these institutions don’t always issue such permission.
When the law took effect, the results were predictable and harmful. Nearly half of the state’s abortion-providing clinics closed, with huge swaths of rural Texas affected the most. Similar laws were passed in other states and now stand in doubt. California, with one of the most progressive abortion-rights standards, isn’t affected.
In rejecting the law, the court majority stuck by its past decisions. States can regulate hospitals and doctors in the name of protecting patients, but they can’t put up obstacles on pregnant women through unnecessary health rules.
Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the majority opinion, said the Texas regulations “provide few if any health benefits for women” and put up unfair hurdles. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg added her own zinger: it “is beyond rational belief ’’ that the law sought to protect women when its true intent was to make the procedure more difficult to perform.
The legal win comes after the damage was done. Clinics shuttered by the 3-year-old Texas law can’t quickly reopen after staffers have moved on and leases expired. The pressure on surviving clinics has led to waiting lists and more costly procedures for women with advanced pregnancies. But for now the ruling stands as warning from the high court on the importance of abortion rights.