This SCOTUS Case May End Abortion Rights As We Know Them

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case out of Texas regarding restrictions to abortion access, and it could have massive implications for women's reproductive rights.

The case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, stems from a 2013 Texas law that puts strict, medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion clinics. The plaintiff is Texas abortion clinic Whole Women's Health, which is challenging the legality of restrictions placed on abortion providers by Texas House Bill 2. In question are two provisions of the law: One requires that clinics meet the facility standards of “ambulatory surgical centers,” and a second stipulates that doctors who provide abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Texas legislators say that the regulations are intended to make women safer. Doctors and abortion-rights advocates say they are intended to regulate clinics out of existence.

The statute is one of a series of state regulations around the country known as TRAP laws, which stands for “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers.” These laws aim to get around the federal law forbidding states from banning abortion by using the permissions granted by the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey to states to impose restrictions and regulations on abortion access as long as they do not constitute an “undue burden” on patients. Conservative lawmakers have used this opportunity to create state-by-state restrictions that have made actually gaining access to an abortion all but impossible.

Restrictions include barriers such as facility standards, which require that hallways are a certain width to accommodate stretchers, which are not used in the outpatient procedure; multi-day waiting periods, which require women to come in for multiple doctor visits; unnecessary and invasive ultrasounds; and misleading or factually inaccurate medical information, which doctors are forced to read to patients. Clinics that cannot or will not meet the regulations are forced to close, leaving a gap in accessible services, particularly in large states such as Texas. As of today, Texas H.B. 2 has already forced the closing of nearly half of Texas’ abortion clinics. If the law is upheld by the Supreme Court, Texas will be left with only nine clinics for a state of 5.5 million women of reproductive age.

The restrictions also make access to an abortion disproportionately hard on low-income women, who have a more difficult time taking multiple days off work as well as trying to find transportation over the hundreds of miles they may have to travel. In a statement released by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Executive Director Jessica González-Rojas said, “These restrictions were designed by politicians to make abortion harder to get. While this politically motivated attack threatens all Texas women, it’s particularly harmful for the 40% of Texas women who are Latina. We’re already suffering from recent clinic closures and funding cuts throughout the state. Latinas are twice as likely to experience unintended pregnancies as non-Latina white women and are more likely to be of reproductive age. We already face too many barriers to getting the health care we need."

Whole Women's Health President and CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller is optimistic. “This law is causing real harm to women across the state of Texas, and it has been since 2013,” she told Refinery29 in a phone call. “This law was never about women’s health. We are confident, because these laws are so extreme. The impact is so severe that we’re very confident that the Supreme Court is going to step in and say enough is enough. People deserve access to safe and legal abortion care no matter where they live.”

Nancy Northup, the legal counsel for Whole Women’s Health, added, “[These laws] do not advance women’s health and they, in fact, undermine it. The American Medical Association and others have made that clear in their front-of-the-court submissions and in their requests for the Supreme Court to take this case. So we see these two as very much tied together, and what’s important to know is that across the country there are dozens of court injunctions in place against these laws, because court after court after court has found them to be undue burdens and has found them to be not medically justified.”

The case will likely be heard by the Supreme Court in March 2016.
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