The Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments today in the most important abortion rights case in decades. The case, Whole Woman's Health v Hellerstedt, looks at Texas law House Bill 2 which severely limits access to abortion clinics for women in Texas, and could have disastrous implications for women's access to abortion services around the country if it's upheld.
Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller argued that the restrictions are in the interests of women's health. Medical professionals, theologists, educators, ethicists, and many more argue that the law does not protect women but in fact does the opposite, infringing on their right to health care. If the way today's arguments went down is any indication, the state of Texas may be in for quite a fight. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg got right to the logic behind the bill in her opening line of questioning:
The state has argued that the law does not place an undue burden on abortion clinics (one of the standards being tested in this case), and that women who live farther than 100 miles from a clinic—for example, in El Paso—can simply find clinics over the border in New Mexico. Those clinics operate without the restrictions that Texas has introduced (including doctors needing to have admitting privileges at a hospital with OB-GYN services within 30 miles of the clinic, and clinics being able to operate as ambulatory surgical centers). So the state suggesting them as a viable alternative for women seems to counter their own argument that they're not safe without more restrictions.
Ginsburg pointed out that if the Texas law is really about protecting women's health, the state can't seriously be saying that they're fine with El Paso women crossing the state border to get their treatment at clinics without the restrictions they're pushing in Texas.
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"Well, if that's all right for the women in El Paso, why isn't it right for the rest of the women in Texas?" Ginsburg asked.
Since the bill was signed into law in 2013, 22 clinics have shut down in the state, 12 of which shut down on the day the law went into effect. Advocates say more clinics will close if the state if the law is upheld by SCOTUS, leaving many women without access to a clinic and de-facto crippling their constitutional right to have an abortion. On a national scale, it could set a precedent across the country for other states to pass legislation (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP laws) aimed at shutting down clinics.
The court will continue hearing arguments in the coming months, and the justices are expected to hand down a decision in June.