Supreme Court hears historic abortion case



Cristian Farias and Laura Bassett of The Huffington Post report that The Supreme Court last Wednesday (March 2) heard 85 minutes of oral arguments in a major abortion rights case that could forever define whether Roe v. Wade is good law, or merely dead letter without practical effect.


The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, most importantly will determine whether the state of Texas can significantly reduce the availability of abortion services. Without the vote of recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia, the decision could be split 4 to 4. If this happens, Texas law could continue reducing access to legal abortions for women in the state and a national precedent on reproductive rights won’t be set (Huff Post). The law, called HB 2, requires abortion clinics in the state to undergo costly upgrades and mandates that doctors working in the clinics obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.


Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote is widely considered to be pivotal. In one moment, Kennedy pressed Scott Keller, the Texas solicitor general, to address how a law which claims to be designed to protect women’s health is instead forcing them to travel hundreds of miles in order to obtain an abortion — which could delay the procedure until later in the pregnancy and raise the possibility of health-related problems (Huff Post). Kennedy suggested that this “may not be medically wise.”


Soon after this exchange, Keller was questioned heavily on concerns about women’s health complications as a result of the current Texas law. Keller maintained a position that effectively stated that the health risks incurred by abortion procedures justified the increased regulations placed on Texas abortion clinics, causing them to be few and far between and therefore less available to the population.


Justice Breyer noted that abortions are 28 times less risky than colonoscopies, which don’t require ambulatory surgical centers. Not even dentists’ offices are held to such high standards, he said (Huff Post). What is the benefit to Texas law “when the risk is miniscule compared to common procedures that women run every day in other areas without ambulatory surgical centers?” Breyer asked.


“What is the benefit of having an ambulatory surgical center to take two pills when there’s no surgical procedure at all involved?” asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (Huff Post).


Keller responded by claiming that the requirement protected against “drug-induced complications,” for which an abortion may be required as a follow-up procedure, but Ginsburg protested.


“That complication is likely to arise near the women’s home,” she said. Her concern with distance regarded the fact that HB 2 complicates a Texas woman’s ability to find abortion facilities close to home (Huff Post).


According to Farias of The Huffington Post, “when it was all said and done, it was Ginsburg, a long time champion of women’s rights, who offered the strongest defense of the law of abortion as it now stands. The reason the Supreme Court is interested in the case ‘is that a woman has a fundamental right to make this choice for herself'” (Huff Post).


A decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt is expected by the end of June.


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