The Supreme Court’s unexpectedly sweeping ruling Monday reaffirming the right of women to end their pregnancies exposes the bogus efforts in Texas and many other states to shut down abortion clinics, supposedly to protect the health of women.
Not since 1992 has the court stepped this forcefully into the nation’s abortion controversy, and its 5-3 ruling discredits the recent movement in state legislatures to focus on how clinics are operated, rather than on the life of a fetus. This cynical strategy to deny women the constitutional right established in the 1972 Roe v. Wade decision has been pushed in the past five years by Americans United for Life, a powerful anti-abortion group and has taken hold in more than 22 states. With this decision, the court has put these states on notice that such regulations must have a demonstrable connection to improving a woman’s health.
H.B. 2, the 2013 Texas law at the center of Monday’s decision, had two dispute provisions: requiring admitting privileges for doctors at a nearby hospital and requiring clinics to meet the same building standards as those for ambulatory surgery centers. After the admitting provision went into effect, the state’s 40 licensed clinics dropped by half.
“When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case,” the majority opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer states.
The clinical-standards provision, which would have required $3 million in upgrades for each facility, was stopped from taking effect by a lower court. Had it been implemented, there could have been as few as seven clinics in the entire state of Texas, mostly in metropolitan areas.
Exposing the hypocrisy of Texas, the court found its law could actually harm women, noting that remaining clinics would be overwhelmed, and that more than 3.3 million women of reproductive age would live more than 100 miles from an abortion provider. “In the face of no threat to women’s health, Texas seeks to force women to travel long distances to get abortions in crammed-to-capacity superfacilities,” Breyer wrote.
Noting that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said others such as colonoscopies and office dental surgeries had a higher statistical risks of complications.
The Texas decision comes at time when unintended pregnancies are at an all-time low, a finding attributed to better access to contraception. That’s the best way to reduce the demand for abortion. Research by the Guttmacher Institute finds that 75 percent of those seeking an abortion in the United States are poor or low-income, and 60 percent are women in their 20s. There is more work to be done to make contraception available to these women.
Yet, there is little doubt that the struggle to return the nation to the time before Roe, when abortion was illegal in most states, will continue. Those with moral and religious objections remain in the difficult position of trying to wrap their principles into a secular argument. We respect their convictions. But denying the constitutional rights of poor and powerless women under the guise of protecting them has its own moral contradictions. — The editorial board