A Quick Explainer on the Supreme Court’s Upcoming Decision on The Texas Abortion Case


Mar. 4 2016, Published 10:21 a.m. ET

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On March 2nd, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the oral arguments of the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case.

The outcome of this case has been pinned as monumental for federal and state regulations of pregnancy termination and family planning across the United States. Whether male or female, pro-life or pro-choice, planning a family or planning to live child-free, the Supreme Court’s decision will affect you.

Here’s quick synopsis:

1. What are my current reproductive rights?

Ready for a shocker? The U.S. Constitution does not explicitly give any citizen reproductive rights, but don’t panic. While the U.S. Constitution does not SPECIFICALLY list the right to abortion in its rights and freedoms afforded to citizens, the right to abortion is supported by other amendments and state constitutions. All citizens of the United States enjoy a right to religious freedom and freedom of speech as provided in the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, a right to privacy as provided in the 4th Amendment, and right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as provided for in the 14th Amendment. These rights cannot be denied without due process, or fair treatment through the judicial system. The Supreme Court has also established that women enjoy a protection from restrictions that place undue burdens or substantial obstacles in the path of women seeking to obtain an abortion of a fetus before it is viable.

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2. So, why has it taken the Supreme Court and Law-makers over 43 years to get this ‘reproductive right’ thing down?

In 1969, a woman seeking an abortion challenged the laws in the state of Texas in the historic Roe v. Wade case. Back then, women were not allowed to have abortions in the state of Texas absent a rape or incest resulting in pregnancy. The Supreme Court left matters of abortion regulation to state governments, with the understanding that the government has a compelling interest to protect both the woman’s health and the life of the fetus. Most state governments use the trimester to determine whether the fetus is viable. Some states have arguably “over-regulated” the standards to attain abortion making access to a clinic difficult. Since Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has heard cases that challenge the need for parental or spousal consent of abortion, the funding of abortion, and even whether women have a right to abortion.

3. Okay. So what is the current controversy?

Since the Supreme Court has left the regulation of abortion clinics to state governments, the outcome has been somewhat catastrophic. Many states impose unconscionable restrictions on doctors at these clinics, which in turn requires them to close shop. The specific regulation that the Justices of the Supreme Court are reviewing is one where Texas lawmakers have required that doctors of abortion clinics be admitted privileges at hospitals and have the ability to admit patients to hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic.

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These restrictions are incredibly expensive and some doctors argue that they do not make the pregnancy termination any safer. Advocates and allies of pro-choice have claimed that regulations such as the preceding are the conservative lawmakers’ way of placing a restriction on reproductive rights.

Bloomberg Business reports that of the 162 clinics closed since 2011, Texas has closed at least 30. Texas is not alone is this restriction. States like Iowa, Michigan, and California have similar restrictions and have added greatly to that 162-figure. It seems that access to pregnancy termination is becoming more and more exclusive, reserved only for women with the financial means to pay for both the process and travel long distances to undergo the procedure.

4. So why should I care? How does this affect me?

The decision of the Supreme Court Justices will set a dominant precedent and standard that your state will be required to soon follow.

It could affect your finances, your career, your very rights to family planning, and your body. If nothing more, it should make you cautious of whom you put in local and national positions of power.

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