Commonwealth Policy Center

Supreme Court Abortion Ruling Makes Women Less Safe
DATE: June 28, 2016
CONTACT: Richard Nelson
PHONE: (270) 271-2713

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that required abortion providers to meet the same safety standards as similar surgical centers. The law, which passed in 2013, required abortionists to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles, mandated abortion clinics to meet the minimum health and safety standards as an “ambulatory surgical center” and banned abortions after 20 weeks. The court said the law imposed an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions.

Richard Nelson, executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, was concerned about the implications of the ruling. "Instead of affirming state-sanctioned high standards of care for women who go to an abortion clinic, The Supreme Court sided with abortionists who specialize in offering cheap and often shoddy services," Nelson said. "Since when did cutting corners in medicine become a higher priority for the Court than ensuring women's health and safety?"  Prior to the ruling, states have been permitted to restrict abortion if there was a rational basis to do so.

The Texas law was prompted in part by the alarming story of abortionist Kermit Gosnell who operated a substandard clinic where extreme unsanitary conditions existed. Hundreds of safety violations were discovered by health officials and two women died in Gosnell's care. The Texas law intended to address both.

The law was challenged by Whole Women’s Health, the abortion provider that was repeatedly found to be in violation of several laws including failure to have licensed nursing staff, illegally dumping medical waste, and using unsanitary and rusty medical equipment.  In 2013, they were cited on 13 different safety-code violations.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the law was intended "to improve minimum safety standards and ensure capable care for Texas women. It's exceedingly unfortunate that the court has taken the ability to protect women's health out of the hands of Texas citizens and their duly-elected representatives." The case called Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was the most significant abortion case before the court in decades.

Observers noted how unusual it was for the Supreme Court to hear the case since Whole Women’s Health is only a limited-liability company and not an actual person who has a constitutional right to abortion. Normally, the Court does not allow a third party to sue on behalf of another’s constitutional rights. The Court also struck down the entire law even though a severability clause within the law would have allowed constitutionally viable portions to remain intact.