Citing 'undue burden': Supreme Court strikes down Texas abortion law

The 5-3 ruling held that the state's regulations on abortion clinics and doctors placed an undue burden on women's constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
A demonstrator wearing a cowboy hat with a uterus symbol holds a sign outside the US Supreme Court in Washington on Monday. In a 5-3 decision, the court struck down a Texas law requiring doctors performing abortions to have 'admitting privileges' at local hospitals and clinics to meet hospital-grade standards.

Abortion rights advocates had cause to celebrate Monday morning as the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that imposed strict regulations on abortion doctors and facilities. 

The court determined in a 5-3 ruling that the law, known as HB 2, placed an undue burden on women exercising their constitutional right to end a pregnancy, as established by Roe v. Wade in 1973. Liberal members of the court were joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy. 

Critics of the law claimed it was specifically designed to shut down clinics with stricter regulations deemed medically unnecessary by abortion providers. 

The Republican lawmakers who authored the bill said it was an attempt to make abortion "as safe as humanly possible." The law required clinics to have costly, hospital-grade facilities, and dictated specific requirements for building features, such as corridor width, floor tiles, parking spaces, and the angle at which water flows from drinking fountains.

Additionally, HB 2 required abortion doctors to have "admitting privileges," a type of formal affiliation that can be difficult to obtain, at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic, in order to treat patients needing surgery or other critical care. 

"We conclude," wrote Justice Stephen G. Breyer on Monday, "that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. Each 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."

Since the law was passed in 2013, the number of abortion clinics in Texas has dropped from 41 to 19. 

"Hopefully [women] will be more preventative and not get pregnant," State Rep. Jason Isaac, who co-authored the bill, told NPR in March.

He added that he hoped the law would make women living far away from a clinic think, "Hey, that might still be an option legally, but now I live 300 miles away from the nearest place — I should probably be more careful." 

Critics of the law argued that a lack of access to abortion clinics would be detrimental to many women's health and futures. 

"What's so perverse about a law that pushes access to abortion out of reach by making it more expensive and logistically difficult is that it is essentially custom-built to target poor women," wrote Kathryn Holburn, a Texas resident, for Time's Motto. "That has a compounding effect, preventing women from pursuing education and from working their way up from poverty." 

Polls show that Americans' views on abortion have changed very little over the decades, and the country remains closely divided. In a Reuters/Ipso online poll conducted this month, 47 percent of respondents said abortion generally should be legal and 42 percent said it generally should be illegal. 

This report contains material from Reuters. 

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