Editorials

Texas abortion law faces Supreme Court test

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Former State Sen. Wendy Davis led protests against Texas abortion restrictions when they were proposed in 2013.
Former State Sen. Wendy Davis led protests against Texas abortion restrictions when they were proposed in 2013. Star-Telegram

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Friday decision to hear a case on abortion restrictions adopted by the Texas Legislature won’t lead to a resolution of the bitter social divide over terminating pregnancy.

Differences on that question will never be reconciled. Even the terms used to describe it are controversial — to some, abortion at any stage of pregnancy for any reason is akin to murder.

But our Constitution and the legal system built around it calls for the Supreme Court to examine such complicated controversies growing out of the laws we adopt and to decide what interpretations best fit the ideals expressed in the nation’s founding document.

The decision reached by the high court will not be perfect, but it will decide the fate of the Texas law and set national precedent. That system has worked well, in the long run, for more than two centuries.

This will be the first major abortion case heard by the Supreme Court since 2007’s Gonzales v. Carhart. It tests concepts on abortion restrictions laid out in a 1992 decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

At issue are two requirements of a bill passed by the Legislature in a July 2013 special session and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry.

One requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. The other says abortion clinics must meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers, which means stiffer requirements for their buildings, equipment and staffing.

Advocates say those requirements are needed to protect women’s health and safety. Opponents say they serve no medical need and are simply meant to make abortions as hard as possible to obtain.

Texas had about 40 abortion clinics across the state when the law was passed. There’s general agreement that the 2013 law, if allowed to go into effect, would cut that number to about 10 clinics bunched primarily in the state’s largest urban areas.

In the 1992 Casey case, the court said states can’t enact “unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion.” That’s what the court calls an “undue burden” on a constitutional right.

But the 2007 Carhart case pushed that envelope and resulted in the court upholding a ban on partial-birth abortions.

By July, we’ll know whether the Supreme Court believes Texas has acted within its bounds.

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