This week, reproductive rights advocates celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt that declared Texas’ anti-abortion HB 2 law unconstitutional.
The Texas law required clinics offering abortion services to comply with ambulatory surgical center standards, as well as mandated that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at local hospitals, leading to the closure of over half the abortion clinics in Texas. Because the Texas government could provide no proof of HB 2’s medical benefits, the Court ruled that both provisions constitute an undue burden for women seeking an abortion.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 18 states require abortion clinics to meet the standards for surgical centers in order to meet licensing requirements. Additionally, 17 states have laws that lay out specific requirements for procedure rooms, hallways, and neighboring facilities including the dimensions of corridors and procedure rooms and proximity to hospitals.
The ruling was welcomed by women and clinics across the country, as dozens of other states had passed hundreds of targeted restrictions on abortion providers since 2010, but the devastating impact of the laws had already been felt by many.
82 family planning clinics in Texas were forced to close since 2011 because of significant state cuts to family planning initiatives as well as HB 2. Though the Court found HB 2 unconstitutional, it might take years for the closed clinics to open their doors again, if they’re able to reopen at all.
But Texas has not given up on passing laws that unnecessarily restrict women’s access to abortion care. This month Governor Abbott signed into law a bill that requires fetal remains to be buried or cremated, prohibits donations of fetal tissue and implements sweeping bans on some of the safest types of second trimester abortions.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, who led the suit in the Whole Woman’s Health case, has called the new law unconstitutional and medically unsound, stating “Senate Bill 8 clearly falls short of the robust constitutional standard set forth just last year by the US Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health.” The Center also reminded the Governor that the state of Texas owes them $4.8 million in reimbursements due to the legal fees they incurred successfully fighting that case.
In an effort to force states to comply with the 2016 Supreme Court ruling, the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2017 was introduced to the Senate Judiciary Committee in March. The bill states that “access to safe, legal abortion services is essential to women’s health and central to women’s ability to participate equally in the economic and social life of the United States.” The bill makes state “TRAP laws” illegal, including requirements that require individuals looking to obtain abortion to undergo unnecessary medical tests and in-person visits prior to the procedure.” The bill has yet to be brought up for a vote due to Republican control of the Senate.
Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 6/27/16, 8/23/16, 5/30/17, 4/20/17