The Supreme Court’s Biggest Abortion Case in Decades: A Breakdown

abortion-caseNow that I am a woman of legal voting age, I have begun to pay more attention to the news and current events involving women’s health and rights. Today I was overjoyed to hear about the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a law that severely limits access to abortions for women in Texas—a case that can be complicated to approach without any prior knowledge.

In a close 5-3 ruling on June 27, 2016, the Supreme Court threw out a Texas abortion access law called HB2 in a case known as Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt. Abortion activists are celebrating this ruling because it prevents the creation of laws that would result in three-fourths of abortion clinics in Texas to be shut down. It also means that similar laws that restrict abortions in other states may also be thrown out.

To understand this case, it is important to remember the Supreme Court’s biggest decision on abortion in 1973, Roe vs. Wade. The Supreme Court held that the Constitution protects a woman’s right to have an abortion. In 1992, in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, the Supreme Court also decided that it is unconstitutional for states to place an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion.

Bringing our attention back to 2013, politicians in Texas introduced a series of very strict abortion regulations known as HB2. Despite a large outcry against these restrictions, they were implemented, causing abortion clinics across the state to be forced to close. It eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, whose decision was centered on two parts of HB2:

  1. A mandate that all heath centers that provide abortions follow medically unnecessary building requirements
  2. A requirement that doctors who provide abortions obtain “hospital admitting privileges” at a nearby hospital

The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that there was no medical justification to these strict regulations, and in fact they could impede a woman’s ability to get access to safe reproductive health care. These two provisions of HB2 would shut down abortion clinics, which would cause women to have to travel far distances or resort to unsafe abortion practices. Therefore, these laws do not improve women’s safety—they do the opposite, hurting women by blocking access to safe medical care.

While you do not have to have an opinion on abortion rights yet, it is important to keep track of policies surrounding you, for they might affect you more directly than you think. Knowing that this Supreme Court case will help millions of women get access to safe health care, I can celebrate a victory for women’s health and rights.