SUPREME COURT SHOWDOWN: Justices to Hear Oral Arguments in Historic Challenge to Texas’ Clinic Shutdown Law

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Supporters will rally at courthouse against unconstitutional limits on safe, legal abortion
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(PRESS RELEASE) The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a historic challenge to a Texas sham law designed to sneak around the Constitution and more than four decades of high court precedent to deny women the right to safe, legal abortion.

Texas’ clinic shutdown law has been denounced by the nation’s leading medical, nursing and public health authorities, as well as the federal government, constitutional scholars, lawmakers, faith leaders, and hundreds of individual women who have come forward to share their own stories about the importance of maintaining access to abortion care.

While the Supreme Court hears arguments, thousands of supporters will gather outside the courthouse to rally against a growing tide of political attacks on women’s reproductive rights. The rally will feature remarks from women’s health providers, legislators, faith leaders, celebrity guest speakers, and individual women who have experienced firsthand the burdens created by underhanded restrictions on abortion access.

Texas’ clinic shutdown law, known as HB2, has already shuttered half of the more than 40 abortion providers in Texas, and is poised to leave the nation’s second-largest state with 10 or fewer clinics. Closing clinics forces women to travel long distances and bear greater costs to access care, pushing access entirely out of reach for many and forcing some women to take matters into their own hands.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“At its heart, this case is about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her health and family and the politicians who are using underhanded schemes to take that right away.

“These sham regulations are designed to do one thing, and one thing only: shut down clinics. And when clinics close, women suffer.

“We’re confident that the Supreme Court will see these laws for what they are, and put an end to these reckless attacks on the basic dignity of women.”

Case history

The case challenges two provisions of the 2013 Texas law House Bill 2 (HB 2). The first provision requires that all abortion providers obtain local hospital admitting privileges, a medically unnecessary mandate that has already forced the closure of more than half the clinics in the state. The second provision requires every licensed abortion facility to meet the same hospital-like building standards as an ambulatory surgical center (ASC), which amounts to millions of dollars in medically unnecessary facility renovations.

Following a lawsuit brought by the Center for Reproductive rights on behalf of Whole Woman’s Health and several other Texas health care providers in April 2014, a federal district court blocked the ambulatory surgical center requirement and the admitting-privileges requirement.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed that decision in large part on October 2, 2014, allowing the requirements to immediately take effect. On October 14, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the trial court injunction in large part, allowing many of the previously closed clinics to reopen their doors while the state’s appeal moved forward.

On June 9, 2015, the Fifth Circuit’s final decision in the appeal once again upheld the state restrictions in substantial part, this time threatening to shutter all but 10 abortion providers in the state. Once again, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to block the Fifth Circuit’s decision and allow the clinics to remain open while the legal challenge continued.

The Texas health care providers asked the U.S Supreme Court to review the case in September 2015, a diverse group of medical and public health organizations, state attorneys general, and leading legal scholars urged the U.S. Supreme Court to accept the case a month later. On November 13, 2015, the nation’s highest court agreed to review Texas’ clinic shutdown law. 

In January, an unprecedented collection of diverse and influential U.S. organizations and individuals filed 45 amicus curiae briefs urging the Supreme Court to reject HB2. Amicus signers included the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the U.S. Solicitor General, state and federal legislators from both sides of the aisle, and hundreds of leading voices from fields as diverse as law, theology, entertainment, business and national defense. 

The briefs also featured the largest coalition of faith leaders and faith organizations ever to oppose anti-choice laws at the high court, as well as a groundbreaking collection of individual stories that underline the importance of access to safe and legal abortion in women’s lives.

Clinic closures have been shown to increase wait times and push some women to take matters into their own hands. Recent research demonstrates that at least 100,000 Texas women of reproductive age have attempted to end a pregnancy without medical assistance.

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