The U.S. Supreme Court said today it will consider the 2013 Texas abortion restrictions, in a decision which is a potential victory for both sides in the ongoing debate over how far states can go to limit access to abortion, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has an opportunity to put an end to the torrent of dishonest laws being used to sneak around the Court's rulings and deny women their reproductive rights," said Nancy Northrup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights, the lead counsel in the case.
It was pro choice groups, led by Whole Women's Health, which petitioned the justices to consider the legality of two key restrictions placed on abortion by the Legislature. They are whether clinics must have a doctor on staff who has admission privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the clinic, and whether clinics must meet the much stricter standards required of ambulatory surgical centers.
"Today is such an exciting day for Whole Woman's Health," President Amy Hagstrom-Miller said. "Today my heart is filled with hope. I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will uphold the right that has been in place for four decades, and will guarantee a woman her right to access the safe and legal abortion services she needs."
She said the Texas laws 'essentially force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term against her will.'
Supporters of the bill, which prompted loud protests in the gallery of the Texas Legislature and vaulted then State Senator Wendy Davis into national prominence, say the restrictions are needed to protect women who are undergoing a medical procedure, and cite the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Pennsylvania abortion doctor whose clinic officials said was 'filthy, deplorable, and unsanitary.'
At issue according to Heather Busby of NARAL Pro Choice Texas, is how far states can go until the cross the bright line drawn by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in her 1982 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling, which outlawed any state placing an 'undue burden' on the availability of abortion.
"The time is right for the Supreme Court to clarify what 'undue burden' means," Busby said.
The meaning of that clause has bedeviled leaders on both sides of the very emotional issue for the past forty plus years.
Joe Pojman, who heads Texas Alliance for Life, says the state is simply trying to make sure women are safe when they get abortions, just like the state would seek to insure the safety of children in day cares and the elderly in nursing homes.
"All we are doing is to insure that women have all the information they need, and if they do decide to get an abortion, they do it at a place that doesn't put their health and safety at risk," he said.
Pro life leaders say they also welcome the Supreme Court's decision to take up the Texas cases.
“Abortion advocates often equate access to abortion with women’s health, but sadly are willing to lower the bar on abortion clinic standards,” said Jeanne Mancini, President of the March for Life Education & Defense Fund. “Today the Supreme Court made the right decision to hear this case and will hopefully let logic and reason prevail in their final decision. Duly elected Texas legislators spoke strongly when they moved to protect women and save lives.”
Abortion opponents say the 'thirty mile' rule allows outside bodies like hospital board to make decisions about whether women can receive abortions, and point out that in overwhelmingly Catholic areas like the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where most hospitals are affiliated with the Catholic Church and would not want to have abortion doctors practice in their hospital, the language essentially shuts out abortion clinics.
Pro choice groups say the Ambulatory Surgical Center rule is simply a 'ruse' to shut down abortion clinics, and say it would force clinics to have to spend huge sums of money to install, for example, doors large enough to accommodate hospital gurneys and piping to deliver anesthetic gasses, neither of which are needed to perform an outpatient procedure like an abortion.
Northrup said a ruling in favor of the Texas laws would lead to a rush of 'copycat laws' around the country, which would take the nation's abortion laws back to the 'days before Roe v. Wade, when a woman's access to abortion was decided by her wealth and where she lived.'
David Brown, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said had the Supreme Court not decided to consider the case, the result would have been disasterous.
"The injunction would have gone away, and there would have been only ten clinics offering abortion services in the state of Texas," Brown said.
A ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court is expected before the end of June.