With only 1 week left in its current term, the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to decide on a highly controversial abortion case. Known as Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, it is poised to result in “one of the most important rulings on women’s rights in many decades”.
The case revolves around a Texas law (HB2), approved by the Republican-majority state legislature in October 2013. The law requires all abortion providers to adhere to a “long list of conditions in order to keep their practice open”. In particular, they must: 1) offer comparable facilities as ambulatory surgical centers and 2) have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
Proponents argue that the law is designed to improve the standard of care and safety for women undergoing abortions. In the words of Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, “The common-sense measures Texas has put in place…protect the health of Texas women”. They ensure that women are not subject to “substandard conditions at abortion facilities”.
Others, however, are calling the law a TRAP…..a “Targeted Regulation on Abortion Providers”. They maintain that such laws primarily aim to make it “almost impossible for [abortion] providers to stay open”. As proof, they note that over 160 American clinics have closed since 2011. Texas now has only 19 clinics, while some states (Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming) have only 1. This means that some American women must wait longer, pay more, or travel 400+ miles for necessary care.
In these ways, TRAP laws endanger women’s constitutional rights. In 1973, the famous Roe v. Wade case declared abortions legal across the U.S. Later, in 1992, another Supreme Court ruling concluded that state regulations of abortion providers must not cause an undue burden to the woman.
But more importantly, TRAP laws may endanger lives. Rather than elevating the standard of care, they may drive women to perform their own abortions or endure high-risk pregnancies. Incidentally, many states with TRAP laws are also at risk of Zika, a virus that can cause severe birth defects.
Now, it is up to the Supreme Court to choose–essentially, on women’s right to choose. Following oral arguments on March 2, the eight remaining justices seemed “split along ideological lines”. A split decision would uphold the opinion of the Fifth Circuit, which ruled in favor of the abortion clinic conditions. However, it would not set a nationwide legal precedent. The justices could also defer the decision to the next term.