Supreme Court Split on Texas Abortion Case

Supreme Court Split on Texas Abortion Case

Emilie Sall, Press Release Editor

On Wednesday, March 2nd 2016, the Supreme Court appeared to be sharply divided on the case of a Texas abortion law that would affect millions of women’s lives nation wide. This is the most significant abortion case in almost two decades and the first seriously compelling case brought to the court since the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia.

What Does the Law Propose?

The court is looking at two provisions of this law.

The first requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals no more than 30 miles from clinics providing abortion services. Admitting privileges are the right of a physician to admit patients to a particular hospital. In order to have these privileges, a hospital would usually check the doctor’s general credentials, malpractice history, or require them to admit a minimum number of patients to the hospital each year.

The second requires all clinics in the state to meet the standards for “ambulatory surgical centers”, upgrading them to hospital-like standards where surgery is performed. According to the Ambulatory Surgical Center Association, Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASC) are ”modern health care facilities focused on providing same-day surgical care, including diagnostic and preventive procedures.”

So, what would these laws do for women seeking reproductive health care?

What would be the Impact?

According to CNN, those who support the law claim that the requirements proposed are to protect the patient’s health. However, those who oppose refute that it has nothing to do with health, but an underhanded attempt to end abortion through closing clinics, as many facilities are unable to meet these unrealistic expectations.

According to the lawyers representing the Center of Reproductive Rights, the requirements of this law will rapidly reduce the number of clinics and will only make it more difficult for a woman to terminate a pregnancy, not any safer.

“The impact of these closures has been dire, delaying many women — and preventing others — from obtaining a legal abortion,” argued Stephanie Toti, a lawyer for the center, in court papers. “This, in turn, has led to an increase in abortions later in pregnancy and in illegal abortions.”

Medical groups, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association, have also opposed this law. According to medical groups, local admitting privileges are unnecessary and have nothing to do with a clinician’s competence. Also, abortion procedures do no need the same standards as a full operating theater, like the law would require.

After the law was in place, the number of abortion clinics declined to half of the amount prior. As a result, the wait for reproductive health service is lengthy, and there is an undeniable obstacle in the path of women seeking abortions. If the Supreme Court rules in Texas’s favor, there would be about 10 clinics in the state.

What Happened in Court March 2nd, 2016?

The three female justices on the bench, accompanied by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, spared no mercy as they questioned General Scott Keller about the impact the law would have on women who are struggling financially or live far from clinics, and the necessity of the law’s requirements.

The fearless leader of the Court’s liberal wing, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, grilled Keller about the accessibility to clinics under the law. He responded that while some women were over 100 miles from the nearest clinic, they could access a facility in New Mexico. She then responded that New Mexico’s facilities don’t meet the requirements outlined in the Texas law.  “If your argument is right, then New Mexico is not an available way out,” she said.

According to statistics supplied by Justice Elena Kagan, “900,000 women live further than 150 miles from a provider,” Justice Sotomayor speculated if the unnecessary requirements were worth burdening the lives of millions of women.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer pointed out the consequences of more women dying from self-induced abortions due to the lack of availability caused by the law.

Justice Kennedy, traditionally the ‘swing vote’, voiced his concern that the law would not be “medically wise” as it would cause women to seek invasive surgical abortions rather than drug induced ones. While he was apprehensive about the law, Kennedy proposed that the court should remand the case in order to learn more about the capacity of remaining clinics to be able to perform a rising number of abortions.

Since the death of Justice Scalia, the court could end up in a 4-4 tie. This means that the law would take effect without setting a national precedent. The justices could also request a re-argument next term and come to a final decision.

According to the New York Times, the decision of the Court will most likely arrive in late June, as the presidential debates force the divided issue of abortion to the attention of the public.