Today, the Supreme Court ruled in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that the restrictions enacted in Texas law HB2 pose an unconstitutional burden on women seeking to end a pregnancy. HB2 led to the closing of more than half of the state’s abortion clinics, and up to nine more clinics would have closed if the justices had voted to uphold the law in full. The law required clinics to meet the same standards as “ambulatory surgical centers” — essentially, small hospitals — and required all doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Most clinics simply could not meet these mandates.
Today’s decision will allow all Texas clinics currently open to remain operational, paving the way for more clinics to reopen in the future. Moreover, the 5-3 decision sets a national precedent that will curtail how far all states can go to restrict abortion. By striking down HB2 — one of the most restrictive abortion policies in the country — the highest court in the land has brought us one step closer to ensuring the respect and compassion that women and their families deserve. Still, we have a long way to go to have real reproductive justice in the state of Texas and beyond.
This decision comes in the midst of all-out assault on access to reproductive care: 231 anti-abortion restrictions were enacted by states over the last four years; 396 anti-abortion bills were introduced in 2015 alone. All of these bills — including requirements for clinics, parental consent laws, mandatory waiting periods, mandatory sonograms and more — make it harder to get an abortion, even if anti-choice legislators claim otherwise. HB2 imposed such severe and unnecessary limits on abortion clinics in Texas that more than half the clinics in the state were forced to shut their doors. These bills are weapons in an ideological battle waged by conservative politicians.
Texas is facing a health care crisis. Even with the clinics currently open and those that will hopefully return after this decision, the reproductive health care needs of the state are unmet. HB2 had a devastating impact on abortion access in rural and border communities. Texas’ geography poses a major barrier to accessing timely care: its sprawling terrain makes it the largest of the 48 contiguous states. The partial implementation of HB2 led to the closing of half of the abortion clinics in the state, leaving many people in Texas driving more than 150 miles to the nearest abortion clinic. The distance forces many people to delay their abortions in order to save money for the procedure and the travel. Abortion procedures further along in pregnancy often require surgical procedures with higher health risks, as opposed to lower-risk procedures that can be done through medication. Combine geography and limited access to facilities with drastic reductions in state funding to public health providers, laws requiring an ID to obtain an abortion, immigration checkpoints that must be cleared to reach a clinic and a lack of public transportation options, and it becomes clear that low-income women of color and immigrants are paying the price for an ideological battle waged by privileged men.
I hope today’s Supreme Court decision sends a clear message to legislators: Respect women and their doctors to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. Public health policy needs to focus on the real health needs of people faced with unintended pregnancies and not impose ideology on their ability to make decisions for themselves and their families.