SCOTUS Strikes Down Abortion Regulations

Life Legal was at the Supreme Court as it rendered its decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the first abortion-related case to reach the Court in nearly ten years. The Court held that requiring abortion facilities to adhere to the same medical provisions as other ambulatory clinics was “unnecessary” and constituted an “undue burden” for women seeking abortion.

Pro-life demonstrators at the Supreme Court this morning

The case arose out of a challenge to a Texas law (HB2) that, for the past three years, has required abortion clinics to be governed by the same standards applicable to other outpatient facilities. The premise behind the law is that a procedure involving the insertion of surgical instruments in a woman’s womb should be performed under the same regulations as, say, a colonoscopy.

The Texas law also required abortionists to have admitting privileges in local hospitals, as emergency rooms do not always have specialists available to handle abortion-related complications. Moreover, hospitals investigate the training, performance, licensure, and certification of applicants prior to granting them admitting privileges. This ensures that abortionists are licensed and qualified to perform surgical procedures that can result in life-threatening complications. The shortage of qualified abortionists led to the closure of a number of Texas abortion facilities.

Life Legal filed an amicus brief with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case, arguing that Texas has a legitimate interest in regulating abortion to protect the health of its citizens. Specifically, as the Court acknowledged in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, “the State has a legitimate interest from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child.”

According to the majority opinion by Justice Steven Breyer, the enhanced safety standards and admitting privileges requirement “place a substantial obstacle in the path of women” seeking abortion and therefore constitute an “undue burden.” Breyer completely disregarded the findings of recent investigations into the state’s abortion facilities that were documented in Life Legal’s amicus brief. Investigators found “lack of staff training, lack of sterilization, lack of medical personnel, lack of emergency medication and procedures; expired credentials” and many other dangerous conditions such as rusty equipment, failure to follow emergency procedures, holes through which rodents could access patient rooms, and lack of follow up with patients.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt expands Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the 1992 case that implemented a new legal test for regulating abortion by asking whether a statute places an “undue burden” on a woman seeking abortion. The implication is that states should not burden the process of killing babies with too many rules.

“The undue burden test has now become the ‘slightest inconvenience’ test, as our Supreme Court has found that requiring even the most basic safety standards of abortionists constitutes an impermissible obstacle to the wholly invented ‘right’ to abortion,” said Life Legal Defense Foundation Executive Director Alexandra Snyder. ”It is difficult to imagine any state regulation of abortion that would pass muster under the Court’s new test.”

Justice Steven Breyer wrote the opinion and was joined by four other justices, including Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan nominee. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the dissenting opinion and was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

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