Supreme Court Rules 5-3 Against Texas Abortion Regulations

SCOTUS struck down a Texas law (H.B. 2) regulating the state’s abortion clinics, concluding the rules were an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.
  1. The Texas law signed by then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2013 requires abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers and mandates that physicians performing the procedure maintain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
  2. Abortion-rights advocates said the law would cause every clinic outside major cities to shut down, eliminating ready access to the procedure for women across the vast state.
    Texas disputed that impact and argued that the standards were intended to increase the health and safety of abortion patients.
  3. Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the opinion, was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
  4. Justice Breyer opens his 40-page opinion by summarizing the holding:
    "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."
  5. The evidence shows that the requirements in the law constitute an “undue burden,” writes Justice Breyer:
    "Those closures meant fewer doctors, longer waiting times, and increased crowding. Record evidence also supports the finding that after the admitting-privileges provision went into effect, the “number of women of reproductive age living in a county . . . more than 150 miles from a provider increased from approximately 86,000 to 400,000 . . . and the number of women living in a county more than 200 miles from a provider from approximately 10,000 to 290,000."
  6. In a brief concurrence, Justice Ginsburg says it “is beyond rational belief that H. B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women.”
  7. Justice Alito penned a 43-page dissent, disputing that the evidence shows the restrictions at issue led to the closure of abortion clinics:
    "At least nine Texas clinics may have ceased performing abortions (or reduced capacity) for one or more of the reasons having nothing to do with the provisions challenged here….Precise findings are important because the key issue here is not the number or percentage of clinics affected, but the effect of the closures on women seeking abortions….Petitioners—who, as plaintiffs, bore the burden of proof— cannot simply point to temporal correlation and call it causation."
  8. Justice Alito concludes that majority’s refusal to parse the law reflects its partiality:
    "When we decide cases on particularly controversial issues, we should take special care to apply settled procedural rules in a neutral manner. The Court has not done that here."
  9. Justice Thomas authored a 16-page dissent of his own. Invoking the late Justice Antonin Scalia, he accuses the majority of “bending the rules."
    "Today the Court strikes down two state statutory provisions in all of their applications, at the behest of abortion clinics and doctors. That decision exemplifies the Court’s troubling tendency 'to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue.'"