The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down a 2013 abortion law passed in Texas that has proven one of the most onerous in the nation and led to the closure of dozens of abortion clinics since the law was enacted. The high court, which since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February has only eight justices on the bench, returned a 5-3 verdict. Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.
Since the law was enacted three years ago, the number of abortion clinics in Texas plummeted by more than half — to 19 from 42, according to NBC News. Opponents of the law said that number would drop to about 10 if the Supreme Court upheld the law, which required abortion clinics to meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers. The law also mandated that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, benchmarks that proved too onerous for many clinics and doctors. The nation’s top court saw the twin mandates as overly onerous for doctors and patients.
In his majority opinion, Justice Breyer wrote, “We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the Federal Constitution.”
Texas lawmakers had argued that the provisions under the law protected the safety of women, but opponents saw it as legislation aimed at driving up the cost of abortions, and making them less accessible. The Center for Reproductive Rights, one of the law’s most vocal critics, had blasted it as “an absolute sham,” arguing that the vast majority of women who undergo abortions never require hospitalization.
Last June, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans largely upheld the law, arguing that it did not place undue burden on a woman’s right to undergo an abortion. That ruling set the stage for Monday’s highly-anticipated Supreme Court ruling.
Reactions to the decision came down largely on party lines.
“SCOTUS’s decision is a victory for women in Texas and across America. Safe abortion should be a right—not just on paper, but in reality,” presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton wrote in a post on Twitter. In a follow-up tweet, she cautioned, “This fight isn’t over: The next president has to protect women’s health.”
In a statement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, denounced the high court’s ruling, Reuters reported. “It’s exceedingly unfortunate that the court has taken the ability to protect women’s health out of the hands of Texas citizens and their duly-elected representatives.”
In the months leading up to the decision, many women came forward and shared their abortion stories — for better or for worse — with the Supreme Court. One notable woman who came forward with her story was actress Amy Brenneman, who also was very public with the details her abortion, writing an essay and appearing in a video. “I could never have imagined that a decision I made at age 21 would be such fodder for scrutiny today,” she said at the time.
Watch Cecile Richards discuss the issue at the Women in the World Summit: