Update: The Supreme Court just struck down the regulations, ruling in favor of the abortion clinics in Texas. For more on the news, click here. Ahead, a look at what that means — and all the ways the associate justices could have ruled. This story was originally published on June 6, 2016. The Supreme Court is gearing up to make a decision in a case that has the potential to change abortion rights across the country. And with only eight justices on the bench, anything could happen. At the center of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt is the restrictive Texas abortion bill known as HB2, which threatens to leave the entirety of Texas and its 5.4 million women of reproductive age with only nine abortion providers. Though the bill applies specifically to clinics in Texas, a decision in favor of it would set a national precedent and open the door for other states to enact similar limitations on abortion. A decision to uphold the law could make abortion virtually inaccessible for women around the country.
With only eight justices on the bench, the future of this case is even more uncertain. In the absence of the still-not-replaced Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away in February, the court is down both a traditionally conservative justice, as well as a potential tie-breaker vote. As the nomination process for a ninth justice drags on, the possibility of a tie creates an extra set of complications, including the possibility of revisiting the case — or a similar one — in the future. We've laid out a number of the possible outcomes, including what could happen if the decision is a 4-4 tie. Start at the top and work your way down to find out all the ways this important case could go, and keep reading for more background on why this case will matter to you.
What’s at stake in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt isn’t actually the legal right to have an abortion, but what states are allowed to do to regulate the procedure. The central questions are what restrictions are too burdensome for women seeking an abortion and whether the state has the right to pass laws that close abortion clinics in the name of protecting health. The Supreme Court could decide to uphold or strike down HB2 in full or in part, leaving a variety of legal outcomes with different effects at the national and state level. Key to the potential outcome of the case are the two main provisions of HB2: admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements. The first requires that doctors who provide abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, something that many hospitals won’t allow, since abortion has been heavily politicized. The second mandates that facilities meet architectural regulations about medically irrelevant things, like hallway width, meaning that even if the procedure is legal, the place where it happens might not be.
The court could also weigh in on things that aren’t being directly challenged: things like bans on abortions after 20 weeks, a regulation included in the bill. In 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court reined in the timeframe in which a woman had the right to an abortion, something that wasn't challenged in the original case. The court ruled that a woman's right to an abortion ended when the fetus became able to survive outside the womb at about 24 weeks, moving up the deadline by about three weeks.
We won't know for sure what will happen for another few weeks — though the court doesn't issue dates for when it will release a ruling, the decision in this case is expected sometime in June. We'll be following the outcomes as they happen, so check back in with Refinery29 to see what the ruling — whatever it might be — will ultimately mean for you. CORRECTION: An earlier version of this graphic contained three errors in explaining the potential outcomes in the case. It has been updated to reflect the correct information. Refinery29 regrets the error.