High Court Comes Down Hard On Texas Abortion Law
WASHINGTON – On the final day of the Supreme Court session before they head to summer recess they up held a major woman’s rights issue. In a dramatic ruling, the Supreme Court on this morning threw out a Texas abortion access law in a victory to supporters of abortion rights who argued it would have shuttered all but a handful of clinics in the state.
This case was one of the most closely watched cases of the Supreme Court’s term, the dispute divided states and reignited passions on all sides of the abortion issue. While California, Washington and a dozen other states sided with Whole Woman’s Health, more than 20 states including Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas and South Carolina supported Texas.
The 5-3 ruling is the most significant decision from the Supreme Court on abortion in two decades and could serve to deter other states from passing so-called “clinic shutdown” laws.
Similar restrictions have been passed in other states, and officials say they protect patients. But abortion providers and medical associations say the rules are unnecessary and so expensive or hard to satisfy that they force clinics to close.
The opinion was written by Justice Stephen G. Breyer and joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.
Here is the Breyer majority opinion, which was joined in full by Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered the swing vote on the abortion issue.
“There was no significant health-related problem that the new law helped to cure,” Breyer wrote. “We agree with the District Court that the surgical-center requirement, like the admitting-privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an “undue burden” on their constitutional right to do so.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Breyer’s opinion and wrote a brief concurring opinion, which focused on what she called women in “desperate circumstances.”
“When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners, faute de mieux, at great risk to their health and safety.”
The ruling will have major reverberations on the presidential election, where the fate of the Supreme Court has been front-and-center after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February. Senate Republicans have refused to act on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, leaving the court with eight justices.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito wrote dissents.
Thomas wrote a bitter dissent for himself, accusing the court of eroding the Constitution.
“The Court has simultaneously transformed judicially created rights like the right to abortion into preferred constitutional rights, while disfavoring many of the rights actually enumerated in the Constitution,” Thomas wrote. “But our Constitution renounces the notion that some constitutional rights are more equal than others. … A law either infringes a constitutional right, or not; there is no room for the judiciary to invent tolerable degrees of encroachment. Unless the Court abides by one set of rules to adjudicate constitutional rights, it will continue reducing constitutional law to policy-driven value judgments until the last shreds of its legitimacy disappear.”