A momentous Supreme Court ruling on Monday struck down provisions in a Texas abortion law that justices said imposed unconstitutional burdens on women seeking to end their pregnancy.
The decision clearly said legislative efforts that purport to protect the health of women seeking abortions can create an undue burden or obstacle that deprives them of their rights.
“Neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion. “Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking (an) abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution.”
The 5-3 ruling will have implications beyond Texas, including in Missouri and Kansas, both of which have similar abortion restrictions. One, in Missouri, resulted in the closing of a medical abortion clinic in Columbia.
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Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri is scrutinizing the decision and will determine in coming days how to proceed. Kansans for Life is watching preparations for a case pending in Shawnee County District Court.
One thing both sides agree on: The Supreme Court ruling handed down Monday was consequential.
“This is easily the most important decision about reproductive health access in more than 20 years,” said Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. “It is an emotional day.”
“It’s a horrible ruling,” said Kathy Ostrowski, legislative director of Kansans for Life. “The court is twisting its own rules like a pretzel.”
The court struck down two provisions of the Texas law that, a majority of the justices said, imposed unconstitutional restrictions on women’s access to abortion.
Specifically, the law required abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, including minimum square footage and rules covering plumbing, heating, lighting and ventilation.
The other provision required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
Advocates of the provisions said they were necessary to protect women’s health. Opponents argued they were part of a pattern meant to make it more difficult for women to get access to abortion services.
Abortion opponents say that goes against court rulings that the states can regulate abortion to make it safe.
“Anyone who professes to care about women who celebrates today’s ruling as a victory is a hypocrite,” said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life. “They care more about abortion itself and making it available at any cost rather than how it affects the woman, much less the unborn child.”
Missouri Right to Life issued a statement saying it was “profoundly disappointed” by the court’s ruling.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying the court “has rejected a common-sense law protecting women from abortion facilities that put profit above patient safety.”
Other groups, including the National Organization for Women, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Feminist Majority and the National Abortion Federation, praised the ruling.
“By striking down the admitting privileges requirement and the surgical center construction mandate, the decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (the Texas case) helps expose TRAP laws for what they are: medically unnecessary regulations designed to be so burdensome that abortion clinics will be forced to close,” the National Organization for Women said in a statement.
TRAP is a term used by abortion rights advocates to refer to “targeted regulation of abortion providers.”
A 2005 Missouri law requires that abortion facilities meet ambulatory surgical center standards and that physicians providing abortion services have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
“We are currently looking at all avenues to invalidate those two restrictions in the state of Missouri,” McQuade said in a conference call with reporters.
Republicans in the Missouri Senate said the state should fight any attempt to do that.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican, said that “it is important that the governor and attorney general … do all that is within their power to defend Missouri’s law requiring doctors to have clinical privileges at local hospitals in case a patient requires emergency treatment.”
The St. Louis-area Planned Parenthood clinic is the only facility in Missouri currently offering surgical abortion services. It meets the ambulatory surgical standard and has admitting privileges.
The Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia, which provided nonsurgical abortions, became a battleground last year when the University of Missouri, under political pressure from Republican lawmakers, decided to revoke admitting privileges to its hospital for the clinic’s physician. That put the clinic’s license in jeopardy.
The clinic stopped providing abortion services in November, but a federal judge temporarily stopped the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services from revoking the clinic’s license. The Columbia Daily Tribune reports that the license is due to expire Thursday.
McQuade said the physician has a review hearing July 15 with the University of Missouri Hospital.
In Kansas, provisions similar to the ones in Texas were enjoined by a state court in 2011 and are not currently in effect. There are two abortion providers in Overland Park, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Women’s Health. The South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita provides abortion services. The Planned Parenthood clinic in Wichita provides medication but does not perform surgical abortions.
Gov. Sam Brownback’s office issued a statement saying, “We are disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling, but the governor will continue the fight to make Kansas a pro-life state.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Republican appointee, joined Breyer and justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor in the court decision. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. joined justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in dissent.
“That decision 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,” Thomas wrote.
The Texas case pitted Whole Woman’s Health against the commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. The state’s solicitor general said in his court brief the provisions of the law were intended to provide abortion patients with “the highest standard of health care.” Several states, including Kansas, supported Texas.
The clinic said the restrictions “would close more than 75 percent of abortion facilities and deter new ones from opening.”
The Supreme Court ruling does not sweep away other restrictions many states have enacted involving abortion.
In Kansas, a measure banning a second-trimester abortion method is also under injunction and pending before the Kansas Supreme Court. A separate measure banning taxpayer funding for abortions is in effect but is being challenged, Ostrowski of Kansans for Life said. In all cases, the state attorney general’s office is defending the legislation.
McQuade said the Supreme Court ruling, while welcome, does not signal the end of this part of the abortion battle.
“We do not expect this decision to lessen the vehemence of our opponents to continue to pass unconstitutional legislation,” she said. “We do not expect the backlash to stop, of course, but we believe we are on firmer constitutional grounds this morning than we were yesterday morning.”
Michael Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers and The Star’s Hunter Woodall and Jason Hancock contributed to this report.