The Supreme Court of United States in WHOLE WOMAN’S HEALTH v. HELLERSTEDT, by 5-4 majority, has struck down a strict abortion law in Texas as being violative of the Federal constitution. Two provisions viz. admitting privileges requirement and surgical center requirement, according to the Court, places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, and each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access.
Provisions under Challenge
Two provisions of Texas’ House Bill 2 were under challenge for being violative of the Federal Constitution as interpreted by SCOTUS in Planned Parenthood of South-eastern Pa. v. Casey
In Casey case, the SCOTUS had held: “When there “exists” an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to decide to have an abortion, and consequently a provision of law is constitutionally invalid, if the “purpose or effect” of the provision “is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the foetus attains viability.”Unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion impose an undue burden on the right.”
In the present instance, the District Court had held that both the above said requirements introduced are unconstitutional. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s holding that the admittingprivileges requirement is unconstitutional and it’s holding that the surgical-center requirement is unconstitutional.
Abortion law impose ‘undue burden’ and ‘substantial obstacle’
Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court, and observed: “The purpose of the admitting-privileges requirement is to help ensure that women have easy access to a hospital should complications arise during an abortion procedure.But the District Court found that it brought about no such health-related benefit. The court found that “the great weight of evidence demonstrates that, before the act’s passage, abortion in Texas was extremely safe with particularly low rates of serious complications and virtually no deaths occurring on account of the procedure”. Thus, there was no significant health-related problem that the new law helped to cure.”
The Court further said: “The record makes clear that the surgical-center requirement provides no benefit when complications arise in the context of an abortion produced through medication. That is because, in such a case, complications would almost always arise only after the patient has left the facility. The record also contains evidence indicating that abortions taking place in an abortion facility are safe—indeed, safer than numerous procedures that take place outside hospitals and to which Texas does not apply its surgical-center requirements.”
The Apex Court, said that it agrees with the District Court that the surgical center requirement, like the admitting-privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an “undue burden” on their constitutional right to do so.“More fundamentally, in the face of no threat to women’s health, Texas seeks to force women to travel long distances to get abortions in crammed-to-capacity super-facilities. Patients seeking these services are less likely to get the kind of individualized attention, serious conversation, and emotional support that doctors at less taxed facilities may have offered”, the Court added.
Justice Ginsberg, in a concurring opinion, said: “When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners, faute de mieux, at great risk to their health and safety.”
Justice Alto, in his dissenting opinion said: “When we decide cases on particularly controversial issues, we should take special care to apply settled procedural rules in a neutral manner. The Court has not done that here.”
Read the opinion here.