US Supreme Court Strikes Abortion Restrictions


The US Supreme Court has handed a victory to the abortion industry, striking down parts of a Texas law that had caused abortion clinics to close when they refused to improve health and safety standards.


By a 5-3 vote, the court found that the state of Texas placed an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions by requiring that clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgery centres, and that their physicians maintain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.


“Neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. “Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a pre-viability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution.”


Sponsors of the 2013 law said it was designed to protect the health of women who choose abortion, rather than an attempt to stop them from ending pregnancies. Opponents say the measures have a primary purpose of forcing clinics to close and reducing access to abortion.


Dissenters led by Justice Samuel Alito accused the majority of going out of its way to strike down provisions in the Texas law. “Federal courts have no authority to carpet bomb state laws, knocking out provisions that are perfectly consistent with federal law, just because it would be too much bother to separate them from unconstitutional provisions,” Justice Alito wrote, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas. “When we decide cases on particularly controversial issues, we should take special care to apply settled procedural rules in a neutral manner.”


Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, commented: “The court has today empowered abortionists to go into court with a sledgehammer.” He added that “I have no doubt they will try to eviscerate every regulation they can.” Mr Forsythe said he didn’t believe the decision had entirely foreclosed any health and safety regulation passed by a state, but said the burden on states to prove such laws were to the benefit of women had become “more severe.”


Dr Charles Camosy, a bioethicist at Fordham University, argued, however, that the effects of the court’s decision could be more modest. “[B]oth the majority opinion and the dissent are actually focusing on legal technicalities rather than answering large questions about abortion rights”, he said.


“The ruling did not say that the Texas law was unconstitutional because any law which leads to a large number of clinics closing in Texas necessarily poses an ‘undue burden on a woman’s right to abortion’—the new standard for pro-life laws to avoid after Planned Parenthood v. Casey replaced Roe v. Wade.”


Camosy expressed the view that the Court seems open to similar laws being found constitutional “if they can be clearly shown to benefit women—even if the laws result in a significant number of abortion clinics closing.”


“And here’s more evidence that this ruling does nothing substantial to advance the moral and legal debate over abortion, particularly as it is being argued in the country right now. Several state laws, including Texas, have recently passed bans on abortion beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy. Despite it being a common sense law, favored even by 60 percent of women, it is absolutely despised by abortion-rights groups.


“But the abortion-rights groups which challenged the Texas laws refused to touch the 20 week ban. Why? Because they were rightly afraid they would lose.”

Crux Now. June 27. Wall Street Journal. June 27.

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