Supreme Court Keeps Texas Abortion Clinics Open

Demonstrators gather before Supreme Court arguments about HB 2 in March.
Demonstrators gather before Supreme Court arguments about HB 2 in March.
Stephen Young

Thanks to a 5-3 decision from the United States Supreme Court, Texas still has 21 operating abortion clinics.

The portion of the state's 2013 anti-abortion legislation that would have shut down 13 of the 21 clinics by requiring them to be certified as ambulatory surgical centers (essentially mini-hospitals) will not go into effect. A previously enforced provision, requiring any doctor in the state performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of his or her clinic, has also been invalidated.

Throughout House Bill 2's winding road to the Supreme Court, the state has argued that the required changes to abortion clinics were meant to improve women's healthcare. Outside the courtroom, state leaders like Texas Governor Greg Abbott have admitted that the law is intended to limit abortion as much as possible, through its unchallenged ban on abortions that occur more than 20 weeks after conception and restrictive mandates created under the "admitting privilege" requirement. 

Those arguing against the law brought in medical experts who said the law offers little to no medical benefits.  A previous Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, held that states could regulate abortion out of self interest, as long as they did not place a heavy burden on a significant fraction of women in that state who might seek an abortion. If HB 2 became fully effective, more than 750,000 Texas women would have found themselves more than 200 miles from the nearest Texas abortion provider.

"We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the court's majority opinion.

Reactions on both sides of the issue came swiftly after the ruling.

"Every day Whole Woman’s Health treats our patients with compassion, respect and dignity — and today the Supreme Court did the same. We’re thrilled that today justice was served and our clinics stay open," Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman's Health and the lead plaintiff in the case, said.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the state was rebuked by the court for trying to ban abortion. 

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“The Justices apparently saw what we already knew—that the Texas law under review and all those like it are never about protecting women. They are about trying to ban abortion and undermining a woman's dignity and ability to determine her own future," she said. "This decision will help to stem the public health crisis in Texas by allowing the remaining clinics in Texas to keep their doors open, and it paves the way for new clinics to open and meet the needs of the millions of women in underserved areas of Texas." 

Texas Right to Life's Legislative Director, John Seago, reiterated on Twitter something he's said throughout the process: That Texas clinics effectively secured a positive decision by threatening to close clinics, rather than just complying with the law. "This dangerous SCOTUS ruling allows the abortion industry to challenge any safety laws by threatening to close rather than follow law," Seago said.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the court kept Texas from protecting its residents. “HB2 was an effort to improve minimum safety standards and ensure capable care for Texas women," he said. "It’s exceedingly unfortunate that the court has taken the ability to protect women’s health out of the hands of Texas citizens and their duly-elected representatives."


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