The high drama that began in the Texas Legislature three years ago, which included an 11-hour filibuster by then-state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth that brought raucous crowds to the Capitol in Austin and the attention of millions on the internet, ended Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state’s tough new abortion restrictions that Davis opposed.
It’s been a long haul, but the high court’s ruling, bitterly opposed by three of its members, should reverse the 2013 law’s effects that left as many as 750,000 reproductive-age women in vast stretches of West Texas and the Panhandle more than 200 miles from the nearest abortion provider.
The law erected a significant barrier for poor, rural or disadvantaged women.
A 5-3 court majority, in an opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer, threw out requirements that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic and that abortion facilities meet the strict state standards for ambulatory surgical centers.
“We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access [to abortion] that each imposes,” the opinion states. “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.”
Breyer was joined in the majority by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Ginsburg, in a separate concurring opinion, wrote that so long as the court abides by its previous abortion decisions beginning with 1973’s Roe v. Wade, so-called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws like the Texas statute that “do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion … cannot survive judicial inspection.”
Evidence showed that prior to passage of the new law “abortion in Texas was extremely safe with particularly low rates of serious complications and virtually no deaths occurring on account of the procedure.” Many medical procedures that are more dangerous face less regulation, making the law’s requirements seem “almost arbitrary.”
The three justices in the minority (Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justices Samuel Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas) objected that the court majority had ignored proper legal procedure and accepted insufficient evidence.
The decision, Thomas wrote in dissent, “exemplifies the court’s troubling tendency to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue.”