— Dianne Feeley
ON JUNE 27 the U.S. Supreme Court, in Whole Women’s Health vs. Hellerstedt, not only struck down key provisions of a 2013 Texas law restricting abortion, but also set a standard by which similar legislation can be measured. The 5-to-3 ruling swept aside the requirement that clinics providing abortion must be ambulatory surgical centers, staffed by doctors with admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
The Texas legislature maintained that these restrictions were necessary for women’s health and safety, but the Supreme Court wasn’t buying it. The majority opinion concluded that “Each [provision] places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution.”
The overwhelming majority of Texas abortions are first-trimester terminations in which the rate of complication is less than one quarter of one percent. The reality is that abortion is a safe procedure with a very low complication rate — approximately one death every two years.
Colonoscopies have a mortality rate ten times higher and liposuction twenty-eight times higher. Texas law allows a midwife to deliver a child in a patient’s home despite the mortality rate being fourteen times greater.
In her concurring opinion Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg noted that when access to abortion is limited, women are more likely to resort to underground methods that do endanger their health and safety.
This decision can be used to strike down identical laws in 27 other states. It also can be used for many other state laws that impose and coercive requirements. (For an extended analysis, see http://www.solidarity-us.org/site/node/4602.)
September-October 2016, ATC 184