Last week, a sharply divided United States Supreme Court heard arguments in a major abortion case that could have serious implications for women’s access to abortion services across the country. The liberal justices–including the court’s three female justices and Justice Steven Breyer–asked pointed questions that left no doubt where they stood. Whether their views will prevail, though, rests with Justice Anthony Kennedy.
The Texas Law’s Restrictions on Abortions
The justices were hearing arguments about whether a 2013 Texas law unconstitutionally limits a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion. The law, known as HB 2, imposes restrictions on clinics that perform abortions. Two are at issue before the Supreme Court.
First, HB 2 requires that all abortions – even medical abortions done with pills – be performed in ambulatory medical centers. These facilities are essentially “mini-hospitals,” with, among other requirements, an operating room, designated storage space for general anesthesia, restricted access to surgical suites, and other items which are unnecessary for the vast majority of abortions. The law also requires that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.
In the months leading up to and following the statute’s enactment, the number of clinics performing abortions in Texas dropped from 41 to 19. If the court upholds the statute, the number is expected to drop to around ten.
Does the Law Impose an Undue Burden on Women?
In deciding this case, the court must determine whether these provisions unconstitutionally place an undue burden on the right to an abortion before the fetus is viable.
Attorneys for the clinics argued that the Texas law imposes an undue burden for two reasons. First, by shuttering 75 percent of Texas’s abortion clinics, the clinics would be unable to keep up with demand
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