Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Abortion Law

By Ryan Hammill 6-27-2016
Orhan Cam / Shutterstock
Photo via Orhan Cam / Shutterstock

The Supreme Court struck down Texas’ restrictive abortion laws on June 27 in one of the most important abortion-related cases in years.

The Court ruled 5-3 in the case known as Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which served to clarify the 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey. That case concluded that while the states are free to regulate abortion, they cannot place an “undue burden” on women’s constitutional right to abortion.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt dealt with two particular provisions of the Texas law known as H.B. 2: the “admitting-privileges requirement,” and the “surgical-center requirement.” Essentially, the state of Texas required doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and that all abortion clinics have hospital-level surgical centers.

The Court’s opinion, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, ruled that these regulations do not provide “medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,” and that “each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access,” thus violating the Constitution.

Justice Breyer was joined in the majority by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Justice Ginsburg penned her own concurring opinion, which appeared to warn that other states' restrictive abortion laws may be doomed.

“Laws like H.B. 2 that ‘do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion,’ cannot survive judicial inspection,” she wrote.

Before H.B. 2 was enacted, the state of Texas had more than 40 abortion providers, but that number was halved with the bill’s passage. Texas was likely to be left with only seven or eight abortion providing facilities — all in major cities —if the law were to remain in effect.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton cheered the decision.

“Safe abortion should be a right—not just on paper, but in reality,” Clinton wrote on Twitter. Her Republican contender, Donald Trump, had no immediate reaction.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito each wrote dissents. They were joined by Chief Justice John Roberts in the minority.

Russell Moore, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote a scathing reply to the Supreme Court’s decision.

“The Supreme Court today has taken a stand on the wrong side of justice, the wrong side of human dignity, and the wrong side of the gospel,” Moore wrote. “The church must stand ready to receive more refugees from the Sexual Revolution’s broken promises and shattered hopes.”

Stephanie Totti, the lawyer who argued the case on behalf of Whole Woman’s Health, said that the decision actually supported women’s dignity.

“The court reaffirmed that the court respects women’s health and dignity in making health decisions, and they shouldn’t have to face needless barriers,” she said.

The Supreme Court continues to operate with a vacancy on the bench ever since Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. While the Court was able to reach a decision in this particular case, it failed to do so in one of the other high-profile cases of the term, U.S. v Texas. That case concerned the White House’s DAPA and expanded DACA programs to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Senate Republicans have largely refused to meet with President Obama’s nominee to the Court, Merrick Garland. They say President Obama should refrain from nominating someone and wait for the next president to do so.

Ryan Hammill is a former Online Assistant for Sojourners. Follow him @ryanahammill.

Don't Miss a Story!

Get Sojourners delivered straight to your inbox.

Have Something to Say?

Add or Read Comments on
"Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Abortion Law"
Launch Comments
By commenting here, I agree to abide by the Sojourners Comment Community Covenant guidelines and acknowledge that my comment may be published in the Letters to the Editor section of Sojourners magazine.

Must Reads

Subscribe