On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the first major abortion case in nearly a decade.
In the case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court will consider whether Texas’ H.B. 2 law—a commonsense reform intended to increase women’s health and safety—meets the test laid out in prior cases.
Texas passed H.B. 2 in 2013 to ensure that women are not subject to substandard conditions or practices at abortion clinics that could jeopardize their health and even lives. This came on the heels of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s murder trial—which brought to light dangerous and unsanitary conditions at his clinic.
The Texas law requires abortion clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic and clinics to meet the minimum health and safety standards that other ambulatory surgical centers have to meet. These include standards for the operation of a facility (including requirements to ensure quality of care, facility cleanliness and safety, adequate staffing, and safe pathology and medical laboratory services, among others) and fire prevention and safety, among others.
The Court’s current abortion jurisprudence reflects three guiding principles:
- The state maintains legitimate and important interests in protecting the mother’s health and safety and the life of the unborn child throughout pregnancy.
- Before viability (which is at 23-24 weeks’ gestation), states may pass regulations that do not have the purpose or effect of imposing an undue burden on women who are seeking abortions.
- After viability, states may ban certain abortion procedures outright, provided there is an exception for the mother’s health.
The abortion clinics and doctors challenging the law argue that Texas is not trying to advance women’s health, but is simply attempting to shut down abortion clinics. There is ample evidence, however, that these regulations are necessary to advance women’s health and safety.
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