Texas Abortion Laws Blocked By Supreme Court In A Victory For Women's Rights

Giving life to the phrase "short and sweet" is Tuesday's five-sentence Supreme Court ruling that blocked Texas from enforcing its anti-abortion laws, which would have closed all but eight clinics in the state. This decision overturns the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling that would have granted Texas permission to shut down the vast majority of abortion clinics and force them to spend millions of dollars on hospital level upgrades. Six of the nine justices agreed with claims that the law would "profoundly alter" a woman's "ability to exercise [her] constitutional right to obtain an abortion."

While the Supreme Court's ruling did not entirely strike down the Texas' House Bill 2, it certainly dulled its bite. Two key components of the anti-abortion legislation will not be allowed to go into effect without appeals, including the controversial requirement for all abortion clinics to maintain "hospital-like settings for surgeries." While proponents of the law claimed that this would protect women from potentially dangerous environments, it was seen largely by its opponents as a thinly-veiled attempt to limit Texan women's access to abortion.

This aspect of the law alone would have severely handicapped the state's abortion capacities, and would have caused over 75 percent of the existing facilities to shut their doors. As a result, the New York Times reports that "no abortion facilities were operating west or south of San Antonio." But now, in this small but significant victory for reproductive rights, Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights told the Times,

Tomorrow, 13 clinics across the state will be allowed to reopen and provide women with safe and legal abortion care in their own communities. This fight against Texas’ sham abortion law is not over.

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The second portion of the law that has been struck down by the Supreme Court concerns the admitting privileges of hospitals for facilities in McAllen and El Paso, the larger cities in Texas nearest to the Mexican border. Jeanne Conry, former president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, explained to Kaiser Health News, "Admitting privileges legislation would impose stricter requirements on facilities where abortions are performed than on facilities that perform much riskier procedures." For example, even though "the mortality rate associated with a colonoscopy is more than 40 times greater than that of abortion," gastroenterologists are not required to obtain these admitting privileges if they perform their practice outside of a hospital.

The Supreme Court deemed that in areas like McAllen and El Paso, where abortion clinics are already few and far between, no such privileges are necessary or enforceable by law. However, in the rest of the state, they will be required.

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Though abortions have been legal since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, pro life activists have continuously challenged the issue, and it seems that the Supreme Court may soon have to hear another case in full and offer yet another ruling on the constitutionality of abortion. In Tuesday's ruling, three of the nine judges — all male, and all historically conservative — Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, said they would have enforced every aspect of the law. Luckily, the majority of their colleagues disagreed.

Now, the law will return to the 5th Circuit, which is still considering the overall constitutionality of the legislation, but is allowing it to go into effect as it further reviews the case. The issue at stake is whether or not the courts find that House Bill 2 places an "undue burden" on a woman's right to end her pregnancy. Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott said that the law would create "an inconvenience, but a manageable one" in the face of abortion, while his opponent Wendy Davis famously filibustered a version of law in 2013, calling it an "abuse of power by political insiders."

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Abbott remains adamant that "it is undisputed that the vast majority of Texas residents (more than 83 percent) still live within a comfortable driving distance (150 miles)" of an abortion facility, though whether a three-hour drive constitutes a "comfortable drive" has been disputed by many of his opponents. Lauren Bean, an Abbott spokeswoman, told the Houston Chronicle that "the Attorney General's Office will continue to defend the law, just as we defend all state laws when they are challenged in court."

But their defense certainly won't go uncontested. With what Northup is calling a "tremendous victory," it seems that women across the state and across the country are motivated now more than ever to take a stand against a law that would so seriously encroach upon a woman's right to choose. Northup told reporters that activisits would "continue this legal battle until the rights of Texas women are restored."

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