President Barack Obama’s administration has weighed in on what will become the Supreme Court’s next big abortion case.
A small group of abortion clinics in Texas wants the Supreme Court to overturn a pro-life law the state legislature passed to protect women’s health that has already saved over 10,000 babies from abortions. The Obama administration has just joined their fight to overturn the pro-life law.
The Supreme Court announced in November that it will hear a lawsuit bought by abortion businesses against a pro-life Texas law responsible for closing abortion clinics that could not guarantee they could protect the health of Texas women. The law has been credited with saving the lives of more than 10,000 unborn children.
The Supreme Court will review the decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to uphold specific safety standards in House Bill 2, the Pro-Life Omnibus Bill passed by the Texas Legislature in 2013. When it reviews the ruling, Obama hopes the high court will ditch the pro-life law.
The administration is arguing the Republicans are hurting a woman’s ability to get access to necessary health care in the state. The law places more restrictions on clinics and physicians who perform abortions, according to a Reuters report.
An amicus brief — “friend of the court” — was filed with the Supreme Court urging that the law be struck down. A ruling on this matter could have ripple effects and could impact how other states approach such laws — in other words, they may be discouraged or encouraged to pass similar restrictions depending on how the Supreme Court rules.
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The clinics are suing Texas, arguing that while the state is claiming to make this move out of a concern for women’s health, it is secretly a plan to undermine access to abortion in the state.
The law places heavy restrictions on providers of abortion services, requiring hospital-grade facilities and that doctors have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The clinics argue that the requirements are necessary because complications from abortions are already incredibly low.
“Those requirements are unnecessary to protect – indeed, would harm – women’s health, and they would result in closure of three quarters of the abortion clinics in the state,” said U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli according to the report.
Administration lawyers emphasized a judicial review tied to the effects of a law. That more nuanced stance might have been crafted to appeal to pivotal justice Anthony Kennedy, who in past cases has backed a fundamental right to abortion but has broken from his abortion-rights colleagues to endorse certain regulations.
Obama administration lawyers said the law’s requirements that clinics have hospital-grade facilities and clinic doctors obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital were unnecessary because abortions provided in Texas are safe and have produced a low rate of complications.
Briefs from state officials and from their supporters in the case are due in the coming weeks. Texas officials have argued in previous filings that U.S. states have an interest in protecting the health of a woman seeking an abortion and urged courts to defer to legislative authority.
On June 9, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, largely upheld the contested provisions. With minor exceptions, they concluded the provisions did not create an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to abortion.
Then, the Supreme Court blocked the law while the lawsuit against it continued. The high court voted 5-4, with Justice Anthony Kennedy joining with the four reliable abortion activists on the Supreme Court in blocking the law.
The legislation, House Bill 2 (HB2), requires abortion facilities to meet the same safety standards of other Ambulatory Surgical Centers in the state, ensures that abortionists have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and bans painful late abortions on fully formed babies. The admitting privileges portion of the law was the portion responsible for closing abortion clinics and, because so many shut down or stopped doing abortions, Judge Lee Yeakel claimed that constituted an undue burden on women.
The coalition of abortion companies, who brought this lawsuit, argues that the effect of the law will be to close many abortion clinics, thus creating an “undue burden” on the right of women to have an abortion.
However, as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote in a 44-page brief to the Supreme Court:
Petitioners ignore the fact that under the Fifth Circuit’s decision, which granted as-applied relief in McAllen, every metropolitan area with an abortion facility operating today in Texas will still have an operating abortion facility if the ruling takes effect.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed an appeal of Judge Yeakel’s ruling and the appellate court issued its decision on that earlier this month. Abortion clinics appealed and asked the high court to block the law while the lower court considers the appeal and the high court granted that request today.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court “erred by substituting its own judgment for that of the legislature” when ruling against the pro-life bill. It ruled that all abortion clinics have to follow the admitting privileges law except one.
“The abortion industry doesn’t like these laws because abortion clinics would be forced to spend money to meet basic health and safety standards” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life. “For them, this isn’t about ‘protecting’ the women they purport to help, it’s about preserving their cash flow.”
“If an abortionist closes up because he can’t meet these most basic medical standards, that’s a good thing for the mothers who would be targeted and the unborn children who would be killed,” said Tobias.
Texas Right to Life emailed LifeNews more about what the high court will do when it reviews the pro-life law.
“In considering HB 2, SCOTUS will consider the vague notion of “undue burden” as originally addressed in the Court’s 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. For over two decades, this nebulous standard has been used to dismantle Pro-Life legislation, and – although SCOTUS’ deference to the Fifth Circuit’s earlier ruling would have been a victory for HB 2 – the Pro-Life movement at large would welcome clarification of the tenuous “undue burden” standard,” it said.
“In their petition, CRR argued that HB 2 is at odds with the state’s interest to promote health since abortion mills have closed as a result of non-compliance with the increased safety standards set forth in HB 2,” Texas Right to Life added. ”
On the one hand, the abortion industry clamors for uninterrupted taxpayer funding for alleged “women’s healthcare,” denying the use fungible funds for abortion. On the other hand, the abortion industry insists on the right to operate in the absence of the basic health and safety standards to which similar medical professions are held.”
“Until SCOTUS completes a review of the constitutionality of HB 2, the law’s safety standards are delayed from taking effect in Texas,” it noted.
Planned Parenthood did not challenge the law’s prohibition on abortions that take place at 20 weeks or later, a provision based on evidence that demonstrates the baby can feel pain at that stage. Pro-life Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed the omnibus HB 2 bill into law in July 2013.
Abbott criticized Yeakel in his motion to the appellate court, saying the district judge “failed even to mention (much less follow) precedent” from the appellate court and U.S. Supreme Court. Abbott asked for a response from the appeals court by Friday and he said he thinks it will overturn the judge’s decision.
The new appeal will be heard by the nine justices on March 2, and a ruling in the case is expected by the end of June.