The Supreme Court's decision Tuesday to allow nearly a dozen Texas abortion clinics to stay open while it considers whether to review an an onerous new antiabortion law was not just a welcome course of action for women in that state. It was also a promising indication that the court is concerned about the burdensome and unnecessary law, which requires clinics to be outfitted as ambulatory surgical centers and doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
If the law had gone fully into effect Wednesday, it would have shuttered 10 more abortion clinics and left Texas with just nine clinics operating. The law's admitting privileges requirement, which went into effect in 2013, has already forced more than half of Texas' 41 clinics to close. For some women, particularly in rural areas, the nearest abortion clinic could be as far as 200 miles away.
Like similar restrictions on abortion passed in other states, the Texas law is nothing more than an attempt to curtail constitutionally protected access to the procedure — justified on the cynical pretext of protecting women's health and safety. Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Assn. filed a brief in 2013 opposing the law after it was passed.
The two medical groups called abortion "one of the safest medical procedures performed in the United States." The brief said there was no medically sound reason for Texas to require abortion providers to have admitting privileges or to impose more stringent requirements on facilities providing abortions than on those providing procedures with similar or greater risks — including colonoscopies, vasectomies, dental extractions and laser eye surgeries. (All of those procedures can be done in clinic settings or doctors' offices.)
More than 90% of abortions in the United States are performed in outpatient settings. There is a less than 0.3% risk of major complications following an abortion, and the risk of complications arising specifically from first-term abortions is 0.05%, according to the brief.
In some other states that have required admitting privileges and surgical center standards, abortion providers and women's health advocates have successfully challenged the laws. Where challenges have been unsuccessful, sometimes providers have negotiated with regulators or applied for waivers to the laws. But Texas stands out for being a state with some of the most stringent requirements for abortion facilities.
The Supreme Court should hear the healthcare providers' challenge of the 5th Circuit Court decision letting this law stand. The court should strike down this law and make clear that the Texas law and others like it that purport to protect women's health and safety instead put an undue burden on those seeking an abortion, and are unconstitutional.