Any day now, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on a challenge to dangerous restrictions that have devastated access to safe, legal abortion in Texas. The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, could further devastate on abortion access in the state.
A woman’s very right to access safe, legal abortion is before the Court. Its ruling could affect access to abortion far beyond Texas, and consequences may reverberate for years to come. In fact, it could redefine abortion access in America. This blog tells you exactly how.
About the Case and Texas's Anti-Abortion Restrictions
To understand the Court’s potential decisions, you have to know that Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt centers on two medically unnecessary restrictions in Texas's omnibus anti-abortion law (known as “HB2”). Those provisions are two of the most common types of targeted restrictions on abortion providers (TRAP):
Burdensome, medically unnecessary and often prohibitively expensive building requirements that force health centers to be designed like ambulatory surgical centers; and
A medically unnecessary requirement that abortion providers have local hospital admitting privileges — which can be impossible to get for political and other reasons that have nothing to do with a doctor’s qualifications.
Both provisions have nothing to do with making abortion safer — they’re designed to force abortion providers to close.
In a blow to abortion access, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled last year that the building and admitting privileges requirements are constitutional — even though they severely restrict women’s access to safe, legal abortion, and despite the fact that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in the United States.
The Supreme Court put a hold on the building requirements, but the admitting privileges law is in effect in most of the state. Since Texas's health center shutdown law passed, half of Texas's approximately 40 abortion providers have closed, leaving many women to travel hundreds of miles or cross states lines to get an abortion (if they can get one at all).
Texas paints a grim picture of what could become a reality for people across the country if politicians continue to restrict access to abortion. To protect access to safe, legal abortion, several Texas abortion providers represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights brought the case all the way to the Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. And that’s the decision we’re waiting to hear about.
So, what will the Court decide and how will it impact abortion access? Of course, we can’t predict what the Court will do, but three potential scenarios seem most likely.
Decision: The Court could rule that both the admitting privileges and building requirements are unconstitutional as an “undue burden” on women’s access to safe, legal health care. And that’s victory for Texas women!
Outcomes: Texas's admitting privileges and building requirements would be eliminated, but the decision would not immediately undo TRAP laws in all states.
In Texas, the remaining health centers that provide abortion would be able to stay open, and some of the health centers that HB2 already shuttered could possibly provide care again at some point.
Beyond Texas, the decision could affect some cases on anti-abortion restrictions — but will have to be looked at on a state-by-state basis.
In the long-term, a ruling like this could ensure stronger constitutional protections for abortion access across the United States. Hoorah!
Decision: The outcome here could be a mixed bag. For example, the Court could uphold one dangerous abortion restriction (like admitting privileges), and strike down another (like the building standards). Or the Court could give a super narrow ruling, or one based on a technicality. Or the Court could just kick the can down the road, postponing a decision altogether.
Consequences: A ruling in the mixed-bag category could be good and bad for women.
If the court strikes down the building requirements, it would pave the way for courts and lawmakers in other states to reject similar laws. But upholding the largely out-of-reach admitting privileges requirement at the same time essentially protects access to the buildings, without the doctors. Think about it: A health center isn’t a health center if a doctor can't provide the care her patients need.
If the Court rules very narrowly or on a technicality, or simply delays its decision, then there would be no gains made on abortion access and after years of political attacks, far too many women are already unable to access abortion safely.
Decision: The Court could let Texas's HB2 stand, permitting both extreme TRAP laws to remain in place in Texas.
Consequences: If the Court votes to let Texas HB2 stand, all but nine abortion providers in the whole state of Texas will close.
This type of decision will have unspeakable consequences for women in Texas.
Those nine health centers would be left to serve 5.4 million women of reproductive age across 270,000 square miles.
Thousands of Texans would lose access to the fundamental right to safe, legal abortion.
Ultimately, letting Texas's clinic shutdown law stand will create “two Americas” — where a woman’s right to access safe, legal abortion depends on where she lives. Women would be left with a patchwork system of rights because of this decision, along with additional state attacks on abortion.
Bottom Line: Abortion Access is at Stake.
Within all of these scenarios, there’s one thing we know for sure: Any Supreme Court decision will only have immediate impact in Texas. It won’t trigger changes for any other state right when it comes down.
In the long run, the decision could lay the groundwork in other states for either challenges to existing restrictions — or even more abortion restrictions. No matter how you look at it, a woman’s fundamental right to safe, legal abortion is under attack. But we won’t go back.
Here’s How to Stay Updated:
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