What You Need to Know About the Supreme Court's Historic Ruling in Favor of Abortion Rights

The Supreme Court Monday delivered its highly anticipated decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, striking down Texas’ House Bill 2, which imposed strict regulations on abortion clinics and doctors performing abortions. The case is the most significant decision on abortion since Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that reaffirmed the Court’s commitment to abortion as a constitutional right.

Writing for the five-member majority, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the statutes requiring abortion clinics to maintain the same standards as surgical clinics and for doctors performing abortions to have active admitting privileges at a hospital less than 30 miles away “places a substantial obstacle in the path of women” seeking abortions.

“We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,” Breyer wrote. “Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access … and each violates the Federal Constitution.”

In a concurring opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “it is beyond rational belief that H.B.2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law ‘would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.’” Breyer and Ginsburg were joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John Roberts was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in opposing the Court's decision.

In a lengthy dissent, Thomas wrote “separately to emphasize how today’s decision perpetuates the Court’s habit of applying different rules to different constitutional rights—especially the putative right to abortion.”

“Ultimately, this case shows why the Court never should have bent the rules for favored rights in the first place. Our law is now so riddled with special exceptions for special rights that our decisions deliver neither predictability nor the promise of a judiciary bound by the rule of law,” Thomas added.

"We are thrilled that these dangerous provisions have been struck down," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America said Monday. "This is a win for women. Every person must have the right to make their own personal decisions about abortion, and we will fight like hell to ensure they do."

Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton celebrated the ruling as “a victory for women in Texas and across America.”

“Safe abortion should be a right—not just on paper, but in reality,” Clinton wrote. 

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders also applauded the Court’s decision. “The Supreme Court today reaffirmed that access to abortion is a woman’s constitutional right,” Sanders posted on Twitter. “It cannot be blocked by extreme Republicans.”

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, who famously flip-flopped on abortion five times over a three-day period, has yet to comment on the case.


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