Today, a very contentious and high-profile Texas abortion case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The controversial legislation in question would force abortion providers in Texas to meet the same stringent standards as ambulatory surgical centers. In addition, doctors performing abortion procedures would be required to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The case now before the Supreme Court was filed by women’s healthcare proponents, USA Today reports. They claim the new regulations would pose undue burdens on women seeking abortions in the state.
Democrat Wendy Davis’ 11-hour filibuster back in 2013 was an attempt to prevent this legislation from passing. Time recalls that despite her passion for protecting women’s rights, she ultimately failed. In the aftermath of the new legislation, Texas’s abortion clinics dwindled from 40 to only 18. If the current Supreme Court appeal is ignored or denied, the number of abortion providers in Texas will drop down to 10.
To put things into perspective, California has about 500 abortion providers. It’s also worth noting that roughly 60,000 women seek abortions in Texas every year.
The Supreme Court has a history of upholding abortion rights in the U.S. The landmark Roe v. Wade decision set the standard for a woman’s right to choose back in 1973. Fast forward 20 years and another pivotal case was heard by the Supreme Court. Planned Parenthood v. Casey established the precedent for individual states to regulate abortion laws within their own borders, provided that they didn’t impose restrictions that put undue burdens on women seeking the procedure.
Those who filed the Supreme Court appeal in Texas argue that placing an undue burden on women is precisely what the legislation before the Supreme Court is intended to do. It has already forced half of the abortion providers in the state to shut down since its passage. In addition, it stands to force nearly half of the remaining providers to close their doors if it is allowed to go into effect. Currently, women have to travel as far as 150 miles to access abortion services in Texas.
“[Allowing the law to go into effect] would cause profound and irreparable harm to the rights, health, and dignity of women throughout Texas, the second most populous state in the nation.”
Supporters of the law disagree. Their argument to the Supreme Court is that no woman’s burden will be any greater than it’s ever been. They contend that while there will be fewer providers, there will still be access to an abortion provider no matter where in the state someone lives, NBC News reports.
“An abortion facility will remain open in each area where an abortion facility will close, [women in Texas] will not have to travel any materially greater distances to obtain an abortion.”
Not surprisingly, as often is the case when it comes to abortion, the two sides of the debate are incredibly polarized and show no signs of meeting in the middle.
The legislation in question has been in limbo virtually since it was passed. This limbo is also where it remains while awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court. The legislation was struck down by a trial judge shortly after being signed into law, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals almost completely reversed the lower court’s decision. It was at that point when the case was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.
In June, the Supreme Court put enforcement of the law on hold pending the appeal process. It will most likely be months before a decision is made.
Texas isn’t the only state with restrictive new abortion legislation being challenged in the Supreme Court. Mississippi’s abortion legislation case, which is already before the Supreme Court, would shut down that state’s sole remaining abortion clinic if allowed to go into effect. The Supreme Court delayed their decision on that highly controversial case at the end of June, due to similarities to the disputed Texas law.
Whatever the Supreme Court decides, its response to this case will be precedent-setting. The implications will extend well beyond the borders of the State of Texas. It will ultimately define what constitutes an “undue burden” as well as clarify the amount of power individual states have to infringe upon Constitutionally protected abortion rights within their own borders.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court has in its power to do for abortion rights what it did for did for LGBT marriage rights in June. Namely, make them consistent across the U.S., no matter what state you happen to be in.
Both supporters of women’s rights and those in favor of more restrictive abortion laws have taken to social media to sound off about the Supreme Court’s pending decision.
While it could be months before Texas and the rest of the nation get their answer from the Supreme Court, the buzz over the case is likely to stay high in the interim. It’s arguably one of the most influential abortion rights cases the high court has heard in the last 20 years.
What constitutes an undue burden for women? Does it go beyond the mere geographical location of abortion providers? Is it an undue burden for 60,000 women per year to try to get adequate medical care from only 10 providers? That’s precisely what the Supreme Court will be deciding.
[Image Courtesy: Mark Wilson/Getty Images]