An undue burden

The Supreme Court has struck down Texas’s horrific anti-abortion law.

In a dramatic ruling, the Supreme Court on Monday threw out a Texas abortion access law in a victory to supporters of abortion rights who argued it would have shuttered all but a handful of clinics in the state.

The 5-3 ruling is the most significant decision from the Supreme Court on abortion in two decades and could serve to deter other states from passing so-called “clinic shutdown” laws.

And (I assume) it will also make it possible for clinics forced to close by the law to re-open.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion, which was joined in full by Kennedy. Breyer wrote that despite arguments that the restrictions were designed to protect women’s health, the reality is that they merely amounted to burdening women who seek abortions.

“There was no significant health-related problem that the new law helped to cure,” Breyer wrote. “We agree with the District Court that the surgical-center requirement, like the admitting-privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an “undue burden” on their constitutional right to do so.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Breyer’s opinion and wrote a brief concurring opinion, which focused on what she called women in “desperate circumstances.”

“When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners, faute de mieux, at great risk to their health and safety,” she wrote.

Yeah because guess what, being forced to have a baby you don’t want to have is indeed desperate circumstances. 

The court’s decision has major implications for the future political battles over abortion beyond Texas.

Anti-abortion activists since Roe v. Wade have worked to pass a slew of laws across the country restricting abortions or making them more difficult, like the law struck down in Texas.

But Monday’s ruling strengthened the premise of the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v Casey, sending a message to states that might pass such laws and lower courts that would uphold them that they have a high hurdle to prove they’re constitutional. The Casey ruling said that states could impose restrictions as long as they didn’t impose an undue burden on the woman.

“By clarifying exactly what the ‘undue burden’ test requires, I suspect the majority was hoping to dissuade states like Oklahoma from continuing to pass laws that so directly challenge the central premise of Roe v. Wade — that the Constitution protects a pregnant woman’s right to an abortion in a meaningful percentage of cases,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN contributor and professor of law at American University Washington College of Law.

“In the process, the Court today has called into question everything from categorical bans on abortions to so-called ‘fetal heartbeat’ restrictions, and perhaps plenty of other laws in between,” Vladeck added.

Let’s hope so.

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