USA TODAY US Edition
Texas, other states place ‘undue burdens’ on abortion
When the Supreme Court guaranteed the right to abortion 43 years ago in the landmark Roe
v. Wade ruling, the court meant it to be a right for all women. But as abortion foes have piled on one onerous restriction after another, this constitutional right increasingly depends on where a woman lives or how much money she has.
Whether that unjust trend continues will be the issue Wednesday when the Supreme Court hears arguments on a 2013 Texas law, which imposed restrictions that have already forced more than half of the state’s abortion clinics to shut down. If the Supreme Court upholds the law — Justice Anthony Kennedy is expected to be the deciding vote — the nation’s second largest state would be left with 10 clinics. California, with the largest population, had 160 clinics and about 350 other providers at last count.
The Texas case is the most farreaching abortion rights case to reach the court since 1992. More than a dozen states have enacted similar restrictions. If the Texas law is upheld, women across the South and in other states will have little ability to exercise this constitutional right. A raft of earlier restrictions — from waiting periods to forced sonograms and counseling — has already made abortions harder to obtain in other states. Mississippi, Missouri, North and South Dakota and Wyoming are each down to only one clinic. In 1992’s Planned Parenthood v.
Casey decision, the court affirmed a woman’s right to choose abortion while giving states more latitude to regulate abortions for health reasons — but with important limits. Legislatures are not supposed to use protecting health as an excuse for laws actually designed to prevent abortions. Nor can the rules place an “undue burden” on a woman’s rights. Texas and other states have flouted both limits.
The Texas law — which requires all providers to have “admitting privileges” at a nearby hospital and to maintain the hospital-like standards of ambulatory surgery centers — might sound like it promotes health. But medical experts and facts on the ground in Texas show just how misleading that is.
A federal trial judge, who initially overturned a key part of the law, found that abortions in Texas were “extremely safe” with low rates of complications and “virtually no deaths.” Nationally, the rate of major complications requiring intervention is one-tenth of 1%. When complications arise, admitting privileges are not necessary for a patient to be transferred to an emergency room.
Since the law’s passage in Texas, the real threat to women’s health has been clinic closures. In Dallas, for example, shutdowns have pushed wait times from a typical five days to as much as 20 days for an initial appointment. More closures would lengthen delays, pushing more abortions into the second trimester, not a healthful trend. Women in some areas with no clinics must travel hundreds of miles to get an abortion.
The Texas case is a watershed moment. Abortion has been a constitutional right for all women since 1973. Its opponents shouldn’t be able to obliterate that right with laws that pretend to protect women but actually endanger their health.