AUSTIN - The pro-choice movement has seen a recent victory with the U.S. Supreme Court voting to strike down Texas’ House Bill 2 (H.B. 2), which would have affected women’s access to safe and legal abortions.
H.B. 2 was signed into law in July 2013, requiring abortion clinics throughout Texas to meet the same standards as mini-hospitals, such as: widening hallways, adding janitor closets and installing new HVAC systems. These expenses were estimated to cost clinics up to $3 million, an expense many of them could not afford. In addition, H.B. 2 required abortion clinics to have the same admitting privileges as any hospital within 30 miles of its clinic.
While Texas lawmakers claimed that HB2 was to protect a woman’s health, it forced several abortion clinics out of business because they could not comply with the standards of the bill. Since the bill was passed, 23 abortion clinics closed in Texas, dropping from the 41 that were available in 2012 to 18 in 2016. It is estimated that if H.B. 2 would have stayed in effect, the number of abortion clinics operating would have reduced to only 10, available only in the cities of Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
In a 5-3 ruling, the Supreme Court said Texas officials failed to consider the impact that H.B. 2 would have on the abortion clinics in the state. “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one women obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the ruling.
The ruling comes after Whole Women’s Health challenged HB2 in a lawsuit in 2014. It partnered with Austin’s Women’s Health Center, and Killeen Women’s Health Center and Reproductive Services on the lawsuit.
“Today’s decision marks a turnaround for Texas and for our county, but let me be clear: This win doesn’t mean the struggle is over," Amy Hagstrom Miller, lead plaintiff and head of Whole Women’s Health, said after the ruling.
Hagstrom Miller was referring to the two parts of H.B. 2 that still remain in effect. This includes its ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and the use of FDA protocol when taking abortion pills, which is seen by pro-choice groups as outdated and potentially unsafe.
The swing vote in the case was by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who sided with liberal judges in the matter. Weighing on his decision was that two provisions in question were unconstitutional and created an undue burden on women seeking abortion.
“Both the admitting privileges and the surgical center requirements place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violate the Constitution," Breyer wrote in the majority opinion.
This is seen as the most impactful abortion case tried in more than 20 years.