In a year where women’s rights have been ferociously under attack and presidential candidates regularly spout misogynistic statements, there has finally been a giant victory for the reproductive rights of American females. On June 27th, in a 5 to 3 ruling, the Supreme Court threw out H.B.2. (not to be confused with North Carolina’s bathroom bill, also called H.B.2), a 2013 TRAP (Target Regulation of an Abortion Provider) law that imposed stringent regulations on abortion clinics in Texas. Conditions of H.B.2. included holding clinics to hospital-like standards and stipulated that doctors performing abortions had to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Although anti-abortion advocates maintained that the restrictive rules were for the protection and safety of women, the amount of money that it costs to upgrade clinics to meet the requirements of the law meant that half of the clinics in Texas were forced to close which drastically reduced the number of operating clinics from 40 to 20. In a state population of more than 25 million, with 5.4 being females of reproductive age, 20 clinics is not enough. To make matters worse, many of the remaining clinics were clustered in the larger cities of the state, limiting access to women in more rural areas who may not have the means to travel far distances to receive the procedure. Pro-choice advocates argued that in dire circumstances, these women may resort to underground doctors or even to giving themselves abortions which in fact negates the argument that the law would make abortion safer for women. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, summed up the situation when she vehemently argued against H.B.2.
“It is beyond rational belief that H.B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions. When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners at great risk to their health and safety.” – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Since 1973’s Roe v. Wade, the attack on abortion has been non-stop. Many states other than Texas have passed TRAP laws and the issue has become a huge platform in political races. Surprisingly, SCOTUS’s ruling against H.B.2. was the first time in more than two decades that the court has demonstrated such a strong stance concerning the issue of abortion rights. The decision strengthened the outcome of the 1992 case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey in which it was decided that states could impose restrictions on abortions, but only if they did not cause an “undue burden” on women. Following Monday’s decision, in the official statement of the majority opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer maintained that H.B.2. does indeed violate this condition.
“There was no significant health-related problem that the new law helped to cure. 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 Stephen Breyer
The strike-down of H.B.2. is not only significant for women’s rights but also for the current state of the U.S. justice system as it indicated possible future trends in Supreme Court rulings. With the death of ultra-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, Republicans have pushed to block President Obama’s appointment of Democrat, Judge Merrick Garland. Their strategy lies on the hope that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will win the oval office, appoint a Justice from the right and maintain a Republican majority in the court. The H.B.2. ruling puts a flaw in this theory as swing voter, Justice Anthony Kennedy, sided with the left, causing the 5-3 split in the ruling and therefore proving that a liberal majority in the Supreme Court could possibly continue despite any outcome of the presidential election.
“Our fight is far from over. In Texas and across the country, a woman’s constitutional right to make her own health decisions is under attack. In the first three months of 2016, states introduced more than 400 measures restricting access to abortion.” -Dem. Presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton
While Monday’s decision signals a giant step forward for women’s rights, it is not the end of the controversy surrounding abortion. Many pro-life advocates, including Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, have vowed to continue their efforts to bring an end to abortion in the United States. In a statement following the SCOTUS ruling, Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, warned against taking the decision for granted.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 28, 2016