Abortion has been legal now for so many decades that if the Roe v. Wade decision were a person, she would be coming up on menopause. Unfortunately, some still don’t believe women should get to choose when and whether to bear children. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will again take up the issue, as the eight remaining justices hear a challenge to a Texas law that has closed more than half of the state’s abortion clinics.
The high court should make it clear that such state-sanctioned sexism is both archaic and unconstitutional.
The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, illustrates the need to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month, leaving the court evenly split between liberal and conservative appointees. It involves a Texas law that exemplifies the most recent strategy to roll back abortion rights.
Texas has buried abortion clinics under a regulatory burden that far exceeds the actual, extremely low, risks of the procedure. For example, it requires doctors who perform abortions to have local hospital admitting privileges and clinics to be outfitted as surgery centers, even though first-trimester abortions are increasingly done medically, via pills, not surgery.
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The law’s backers say this is about health. That’s a pretext. If health were the aim, Texas would make abortion easier to get, not harder. Clinic closures have quadrupled delays in parts of the state, pushing the procedure, for some, into the riskier second trimester.
But health isn’t the point. An elected official in Texas, in fact, tweeted after the law passed that shuttering clinics was why it was rammed through.
For women who can afford the time and travel, laws like the one in Texas just add inconvenience to insult. But for poor women who can’t afford the sick days or child care, or who live on the street and can barely negotiate food and shelter, they’re the difference, often, between a modicum of control over their lives and abject poverty, for themselves and the babies they bear.
If the court splits along the lines that prevailed prior to Scalia’s death, the 4-4 tie would affirm the lower court ruling, and abortion would become all but unobtainable in the U.S. 5th Circuit, which includes Texas and Louisiana. Ultimately, the precedent could spread; nine other states have adopted similar restrictions. It also would encourage the piling on of other bogus rules, from waiting periods to forced sonograms, that have become common outside California.
In the past, the court has ruled against making a right so burdensome that it has no meaning. Though a conservative, Justice Anthony Kennedy took that stand once and should repeat it. At least five states now are down to just one abortion clinic. Texas’ cynical assault on women should not become the law of the land.