The Whole Woman's Health Supreme Court Case Is Supposedly Missing One Key Piece Of Evidence
NBC News is reporting that an employee working in the Texas state government apparatus is alleging that superiors directed employees to deliberately withhold data on abortion rates ahead of the Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt case. The employee, speaking anonymously in order to protect their job, says that the state's Department of Health Services blocked efforts to make the data available to interested parties. While this bombshell comes too late to affect the outcome of the Supreme Court's ruling on June 26, it does serve as a useful example of how partisan politics can get in the way of smart policy.
According to NBC News' report, they were contacted by the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on June 15 alleging that state officials had a hand in obfuscating access to statistics collected about abortions. Providers in Texas have been under extreme legal pressure over the course of the past few years. Since 2013, about half of the clinics in the state had been shuttered due to more restrictive laws governing where clinics were allowed to be situated and how wide the hallways could be.
The data, which would have given policymakers an idea of who was accessing abortion services and where they were doing so, was apparently ready for distribution in February of this year. Carrie Williams, a spokesperson for the Department of Health Services, told NBC News, "The data is not final. If the data were final, we would release it. We hope to have it finalized soon."
While there was no shortage of amicus curiae (Latin for "friend of the court") briefs filed by independent parties on both sides of the issue, what was missing was the actual data from the people who the ruling would affect. Three key metrics — the number of abortions which occurred in Texas in 2014, the ratio of surgical to medical abortions, and abortion access in border communities — are without question of interest to the court.
While there very well may be legitimate delays when it comes to collecting and proofreading data from one of the largest states in the country, there really is no reason for an 18-month turnaround time to release information that other lawmakers need to make informed decisions about pressing public health matters. Especially when it comes to the health and welfare of all women of childbearing age, officials responsible for conducting state business should be professionals, and put partisan politics to the side. Because at this point, it isn't just about abortion access in Texas; it's a national issue with serious implications for women's health.