Roe v. Wade up for debate? US Supreme Court to review major abortion case

Abortion rights activists protest outside a U.S. federal court in Austin, Texas August 4, 2014. © Jon Herskovitz
The US Supreme Court added a case to its docket that seeks to block a Texas law threatening to shut down additional health clinics that provide safe abortions in the state.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t reverse the lower court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, it would leave 5.4 million women of reproductive age in Texas with only 10 health centers that provide safe, legal abortions in the entire state.

The plaintiff’s lawsuit, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, arose from a Texas law called HB2 that required doctors at all abortion clinics to possess admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and for the clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers.

Women’s health advocates argued that the costs of meeting the building and equipment requirement are prohibitive and can run from a $100,000 to several million dollars, which many of the clinics cannot afford.

“Latinas in Texas are watching this case closely. Unfortunately, ever since a woman's ability to end her pregnancy was legalized four decades ago, anti-choice politicians have tried to block it. They've passed laws to make abortion less affordable, force women to wait, and shut down clinics in our communities,” said Ana Rodriguez DeFrates of the Texas Latina Advocacy Network (LAN) in a statement.

Now we look to the Supreme Court to reject these politically-motivated attacks and reaffirm a woman’s basic dignity.”

State lawmakers defend the law as necessary to protect women’s health, a state interest recognized previously by the Supreme Court in weighing abortion regulations.

Women’s health groups say the law HB2 and efforts in other conservative states have little to do with protecting women’s health, but instead have the goal of restricting access to lawful abortion.

“If the court allows this clinic shutdown law to stand, it would essentially take many women back to a time before abortion was legal,” Cecile Richard, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement provided to RT.

Texas paints a devastating picture of what’s at stake for women across the country – where women are already traveling hundreds of miles, crossing state lines, and waiting weeks to get an abortion, if they can at all. A woman’s very right to make personal medical decisions about abortion is now before the court,” Richard added.

Before the legislation was enacted in 2013, there were approximately 40 health clinics in the state of Texas; now there are only 19. If the law goes ahead, it will lead to an additional nine closing their doors for good.

“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 percent of Texas women who are Latina. We’re already suffering from recent clinic closures and funding cuts throughout the state,” said Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, in a statement provided to RT.

Oral arguments in the case will be held next spring, with a decision expected toward the end of June, 2016.

A recent Bloomberg Politics national poll found that 67 percent of Americans surveyed said the Supreme Court was right to rule that women have a constitutional right to abortion, and agree with the decision in Roe v. Wade.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit reproductive health organization, 47,000 women around the world die each year from unsafe abortions, and millions more are injured.

Last month, Texas lawmakers threatened to terminate Planned Parenthood’s funding through the state’s Medicaid program, over a recent scandal allegedly showing the clinic’s sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood had 30 days to contend the termination notice. If the termination holds, it would end contracts for services such as contraception, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Texas’ Medicaid program does not provide reimbursement for abortion procedures.

The decision, however, runs contrary to federal law, which prohibits states from interfering with Medicaid beneficiaries’ access to the qualified provider for their choices, and says that “[s]tates are not…permitted to exclude providers from the program solely on the basis of the range of medical services they provide.