(PRESS RELEASE) – In a historic ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court today struck down a Texas law designed to shut down most of the state’s abortion clinics with medically unnecessary restrictions. The decision reaffirms a woman’s constitutional right to access safe, legal abortion.
Today’s landmark ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt ensures that existing clinics can remain open and will enable more clinics to open their doors in Texas, where the 2013 law had forced more than half of the 40-plus clinics operating before its enactment to close.
“[T]he challenged provisions of H. B. 2 close most of the abortion facilities in Texas and place added stress on those facilities able to remain open,” the majority opinion said. “They vastly increase the obstacles confronting women seeking abortions in Texas without providing any benefit to women’s health capable of withstanding any meaningful scrutiny.”
This decisive rejection of deceptive clinic shutdown laws marks the most significant abortion-related ruling from the Court in more than two decades, and will have a significant national impact in states where similar laws threaten to shutter abortion clinics with medically unnecessary red tape.
Said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
"Today women across the nation have had their constitutional rights vindicated. The Supreme Court sent a loud and clear message that politicians cannot use deceptive means to shut down abortion clinics."
"The Texas clinics we\'ve fought beside for the last three years will remain open, with the possibility more could open their doors in underserved areas.
“Without question, today's ruling is a game changer in what has been an unrelenting assault on women's rights across the country. This tremendous victory renews the promise of Roe v. Wade for the next generation. We will not stop fighting until access is restored for all women in the US."
Said Amy Hagstrom-Miller president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and lead plaintiff in the case:
“Today, the Supreme Court affirmed what we at Whole Woman’s Health have known all along—that every woman, no matter where she lives, deserves access to compassionate, respectful, and comprehensive care from a clinic she trusts. Today justice was served.”
Today’s ruling is entirely consistent with lower court rulings in challenges to similar laws in Mississippi and Louisiana which found the measures likely unconstitutional, the clinics in those states will remain open while the litigation continues.
The case challenged two provisions of the 2013 Texas law House Bill 2 (HB 2). The first provision requires that all abortion providers obtain local hospital admitting privileges, a medically unnecessary mandate that has already forced the closure of more than half the clinics in the state. The second provision requires every licensed abortion facility to meet the same hospital-like building standards as an ambulatory surgical center (ASC), which amounts to millions of dollars in medically unnecessary facility renovations.
Following a lawsuit brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Morrison and Foerster on behalf of Whole Woman’s Health and several other Texas abortion providers in April 2014, a federal district court blocked the ambulatory surgical center requirement and the admitting privileges requirement.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed that decision in large part on October 2, 2014, allowing the requirements to immediately take effect. On October 14, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the trial court injunction in large part, allowing many of the previously closed clinics to reopen their doors while the state’s appeal moved forward.
On June 9, 2015, the Fifth Circuit’s final decision in the appeal once again upheld the state restrictions in substantial part, this time threatening to shutter all but 10 abortion clinics in the state. Once again, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to block the Fifth Circuit’s decision and allow many of the clinics to remain open while the legal challenge continued.
The Texas abortion providers asked the U.S Supreme Court to review the case in September 2015, a diverse group of medical and public health organizations, state attorneys general, and leading legal scholars urged the U.S. Supreme Court to accept the case a month later. On November 13, 2015, the nation’s highest court agreed to review Texas’ clinic shutdown law.
In January, an unprecedented collection of diverse and influential U.S. organizations and individuals filed 45 amicus curiae briefs urging the Supreme Court to reject HB2. Amicus signers included the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the U.S. Solicitor General, state and federal legislators from both sides of the aisle, and hundreds of leading voices from fields as diverse as law, theology, entertainment, business and national defense.
The briefs also featured the largest coalition of faith leaders and faith organizations ever to oppose anti-choice laws at the high court, as well as a groundbreaking collection of individual stories that underlined the importance of access to safe and legal abortion in women’s lives.
Clinic closures have been shown to increase wait times and push some women to take matters into their own hands. Recent research demonstrates that at least 100,000 Texas women of reproductive age have ever attempted to end a pregnancy without medical assistance.