Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Medical Standards for Abortion Clinics
The US Supreme Court has struck down Texas’ laws requiring abortion clinics to hold to higher medical standards.
In perhaps its most closely watched decision of 2016, the Court ruled 5-3 that Texas’ 2013 law forcing abortion clinics to increase their medical standards unconstitutionally limits the right of women to access abortion. In the same decision, the Court said doctors cannot be forced to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, which was also required by the July 2013 law signed by then-Governor Rick Perry.
The case, Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, is the first major regulatory decision by the Court since its 2007 decision upholding the constitutionality of bans on partial-birth abortion. The law has been credited for more than 50 percent of Texas’ 40 abortion clinics either declining to provide abortions or closing since 2013.
Abortion groups say the standards, such as widening hallways for better EMT access that raise clinics to the standards of outpatient surgical centers, are too arduous, and unconstitutionally limit the ability of women to find abortion clinics. However, Texas Right to Life John Seago told The Stream over the weekend these arguments were simply the “slackers’ vote.”
“The fact that abortion clinics in Texas have chosen to close their doors instead of comply with state health and safety laws may also be a contributing factor” to the lower number of abortions in Texas, said Seago. “However, this is caused by the abortion industry itself, not Pro-Life Texans. There are hundreds of non-abortion health centers in Texas that follow these same medical standards every day. These rules are not impossible to follow but the abortion industry is playing the victim to the Supreme Court and has threatened to close their doors if the Supreme Court does not strike down this commonsense law.”
According to Seago, “if the court sides with the abortion industry, [Justices] are signaling to all clinics in the country that in order to challenge any basic, commonsense health and safety standards, abortion advocates only have to argue they would rather close their doors than follow state law.”
Abortion backers and pro-life leaders quickly reacted to the decision, including President Obama, who praised the Court. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick decried it in a statement, calling it “a devastating blow to the protection of the health and safety of women in Texas. Now abortion clinics are free to ignore these basic safety standards and continue practicing under substandard conditions.”
The abortion clinic that sued to the Court, Whole Women’s Health, said in a statement, “We’re thrilled that today justice was served and our clinics stay open.”
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins condemned the decision, saying that “this decision is a loss for women and gives the abortion industry a free pass. The need to regulate abortion facilities is necessary to protect women against cut-and-run abortionists at shoddy abortion facilities.” “In 2011 alone,” continued Perkins, “26,500 women experienced abortion-related complications, and close to 3,200 women required post-abortion hospitalization. Hair and nail salons, public pools, restaurants, and tanning centers must meet basic health and safety standards — shouldn’t abortion facilities?”
Perkins’ colleague, Arina Grossu, said that “one cannot be pro-woman and stand for the substandard facilities that many abortion centers operate which risk women’s lives. Striking down abortion facility regulations leaves the door open for continued and rampant disregard for women’s health and safety.”
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton tweeted that “SCOTUS’s decision is a victory for women in Texas and across America. Safe abortion should be a right—not just on paper, but in reality. –H”
She also tweeted, “This fight isn’t over: The next president has to protect women’s health. Women won’t be “punished” for exercising their basic rights. -H”
“Abortionists shouldn’t be given a free pass to elude medical requirements that everyone else is required to follow,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Steve Aden. “We are disappointed that the Supreme Court has ruled against a law so clearly designed to protect the health and safety of women in the wake of the Kermit Gosnell scandal. The law’s requirements were commonsense protections that ensured the maximum amount of protection for women, who deserve to have their well-being treated by government as a higher priority than the bottom line of abortionists. Any abortion facilities that don’t meet basic health and safety standards are not facilities that anyone should want to remain open.”
The ACLU backed the decision, noting in a press release that “the decision sets a national precedent and its effects are likely to be felt around the country” as challenges to similar laws are decided in several states. The group’s director of the Reproductive Freedom Project, Jennifer Dalven, praised the decision in the same release.
“Today, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the Constitution protects not just the theoretical right to abortion, but the right of a woman to actually get one without unwarranted interference from politicians. The decision should send a loud signal to politicians that they can no longer hide behind sham rationales to shut down clinics and prevent a woman who has decided to end a pregnancy from getting the care she needs,” said Dalven.
The undercover investigative group Center for Medical Progress called the Court’s decision “nearly incoherent,” and declared the ruling “little more than a naked power grab that calls into question the Court’s continued adherence to the rule of law.”
“So long as the people of the United States must live and litigate under one set of rules, while abortion doctors receive preferential treatment and may freely break them, corrupt and unaccountable organizations like Planned Parenthood will continue to put their profit margins ahead of women’s lives, safety, and that of unborn children.”
National Abortion Federal president Vicki Saporta praised the ruling. “While this decision will help with the barriers in Texas and gives a solid precedent to strike down similar laws in other states as unconstitutional, there are still many politically-motivated, medically-unnecessary barriers to accessing abortion care throughout the U.S.”
Priests for Life National Director Father Frank Pavone said the decision made the Supreme Court “the Supreme Medical Board, setting its own standards for patient care in the United States. This decision is an outrageous usurpation of legislative power …”
Pro-life columnist, social scientist and Ave Maria Professor Dr. Michael New tweeted, “I cannot believe that after the Gosnell & Karpen [cases] people think abortion clinics need less regulation.”
Editor’s note: This is a developing story. Be sure to come back as details and commentary continue to break.