SCOTUS Just Gave Pro-Choice Activists More Reason To Celebrate

If you thought the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday striking down key provisions of Texas’ House Bill 2 (HB2) abortion bill was a win, it handed pro-choice activists a victory lap. No, the highest court in the land didn’t issue another decision. However, the Supreme Court quietly declined to hear two additional abortion-related cases, both where the lower courts blocked laws that were similar to HB2.

The two laws, which originated in Mississippi and Wisconsin, had both passed state legislatures but were prevented from going into effect while the courts decided their constitutionality. The Mississippi law, which would have shut down the only abortion clinic in the state, had been put on hold by a federal district court judge. That judge’s injunction was upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Similarly, the Wisconsin law had been struck down by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

In Monday's decision in Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court struck down two prime — and deeply controversial —components of Texas HB2: 1) that abortion clinics meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers and 2) that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. As Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion:

We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the Federal Constitution.

While the ruling was seen as a major win for abortion rights, it was not immediately clear how other abortion laws would be impacted by it. However, the Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday to decline to hear these two latest cases is a clear signal to pro-choice advocates that similar provisions that take aim at abortion clinics and doctors, also known as types of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider (TRAP) laws, will not be upheld. Or, to put it into non-wonk speak, by refusing to hear the cases, the Supreme Court is saying #ByeFelicia to anti-abortion activists hoping to use doctor-admitting-privileges type rules to restrict the abilities of clinics to operate.