In a groundbreaking move, the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case impacting abortion rights for millions of Texas women — and possibly influencing such access for women all over the US.
The court will hear its first major abortion case since 2007, which providers brought against the state of Texas for its 2013 law imposing strict requirements on abortion clinics. The law — which requires that doctors have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and that clinics meet certain requirements in facilities, staffing, and equipment — has so far caused half of the state's 41 clinics to close and could soon leave Texas with just 10 clinics serving 5.4 million women.
Further implementation of the law "would cause profound and irreparable harm to the rights, health and dignity of women throughout Texas, the second-most populace state in the nation," the providers wrote in their brief.
The Supreme Court's decision to take on Whole Woman's Health v. Cole could block the further closure of Texas clinics and have broad implications for other states' abortion laws, advocates explained.
Heather Busby, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League's Pro-Choice Texas, said the court decision could have "drastic results." She told VICE News that if the court upheld the providers' case, it would once again "be possible for quality abortion providers to operate in the areas we need it most."
Should the law take effect, however, the remaining clinics would be located primarily in Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio.
Gretchen Borchelt, vice president of health and reproductive rights for the National Women's Law Association, called Texas "ground zero" in the abortion debate, noting that other states could be discouraged from passing such sweeping legislation if Texas' law was struck down. The challengers claimed the Texas law brought "undue burden" on women seeking reproductive healthcare.
"Texas is an example of the kind of laws we've seen across the country where politicians try to take away the right to abortion under false claims they're trying to protect women's health. It's leaving access to abortion dependent on a woman's zip code, income, and availability to travel and find childcare and get around the state," Borcheldt told VICE News.
"If the court decides the laws Texas is passing are an undue burden, it will signal to other politicians they can't do this," Borcheldt continued. But if the court upheld the law, it might "encourage other states" to pass such bills.
Texas' attorney general, Ken Paxton, maintained that the state was within its bounds to impose clinic requirements. He responded to the case by praising Texas's "common-sense measures" that "elevate the standards of care and protect the health of Texas women."
"The state has wide discretion to pass laws ensuring Texas women are not subject to substandard conditions at abortion facilities," Paxton said in a press statement. "The advancement of the abortion industry's bottom line shouldn't take precedence over women's health, and we look forward to demonstrating the validity of these important health and safety requirements in Court."
Photo by Kjetil Ree via Wikicommons.