Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday (June 27) struck down a Texas law regulating access to abortion outside of hospitals or facilities with hospital-equivalent services.
In Oklahoma, abortion advocates praised the decision written by Justice Stephen Breyer. On the other side, opponents of abortion decried the decision.
The Court ruled 5-3 against the Lone Star State in the case “Whole Woman’s Health et al. v. Hellerstedt, Commissioner, Texas Department of State Health Services et al.”
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU, Oklahoma) said in a press release the decision “reaffirmed a decades old precedent that guarantees a woman’s right to access an abortion. The Court’s decision sends a strong statement to politicians nationwide that attempts to marginalize women by restricting their right to reproductive health care will not be tolerated. In the wake of today’s victory, we hope Oklahoma legislators abandon their misguided assault on abortion rights and instead move forward with policies that support women and families.”
Kiesel characterized the decision as “one of the most important reproductive rights cases in American history.”
Allie Shinn, Kiesel’s colleague at the ACLU and the organization’s spokesperson in Oklahoma, told television station KFOR -- the local NBC News affiliate -- the High Court "reaffirmed ... what we already knew, which is that women have a constitutionally guaranteed right to access abortion wherever they live in this country.”
Timothy Tardibono, president of the Family Policy Institute of Oklahoma (FPIO) commented, in a statement sent to The City Sentinel, “By a slim margin, the U.S. Supreme Court failed to affirm common-sense protections for women seeking to terminate pregnancies despite the fact that two lower courts had found the protections reasonable. Common sense safety protections are not an ‘undue burden’ and actually save lives. Residents in Texas and Oklahoma should have the freedom to elevate women’s health and safety over the profits of the abortion industry.
“The abortion industry should not get special treatment versus other medical facilities that have to put the patient’s safety above a profit motive. The SCOTUS abortion distortion fails women and puts them at risk for dangerous situations. Problems with abortion facilities occur right here in OKC with an abortionist recently giving up his medical license in the face of prosecution.”
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion. Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the four-justice “liberal” wing to build a 5-3 majority. Breyer asserted various regulations in the Texas law were unconstitutional limits on abortion, and medically unnecessary.
Justice Breyer reasoned “There was no significant health-related problem that the new law helped to cure.” He argued "the surgical-center requirement, like the admitting privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions and constitutes an 'undue burden' on their constitutional right to do so."
In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas reflected, "[The majority opinion] exemplifies the Court's troubling tendency 'to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue.' "
Thomas also maintained, “The Court has simultaneously transformed judicially created rights like the right to abortion into preferred constitutional rights, while disfavoring many of the rights actually enumerated in the Constitution.”
Thomas concluded his dissent by writing, “The majority’s embrace of a jurisprudence of rights-specific exceptions and balancing tests is a regrettable concession of defeat — an acknowledgement that we have passed the point where ‘law,’ properly speaking, has any further application.’ ”
The latter phrase was drawn from a 1989 essay by the late Antonin Scalia.
Laura McQuade, interim president of Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma (PPCO), said the court opinion “cemented what we have always known – that admitting privileges and ‘ASC’ requirements are medically unnecessary and their sole intent is to restrict access to abortion services, not to protect the health and safety of patients. Leading health organizations like the American Medical Association (AMA) and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) agree and vehemently oppose these regulations that have been a cornerstone of a slow and steady effort to chip away at a person’s right and ability to choose safe, legal abortion. PPCO will now look closely at our local laws and swiftly form a legal plan to ensure they never go into effect in Oklahoma.”
The Court’s reasoning on admitting privileges could impact existing regulations in several states, including Missouri, North Dakota and Tennessee. Provisions in the following states have been on hold while the Court looked at the Texas case: Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
The Court concluded that certain provisions in the law did not offer “medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access.”
McQuade said, “PPCO will continue fighting these medically unnecessary laws until a person’s right to choose is equal to a person’s ability to access safe, legal abortion," McQuade said.
Although arguably the most significant abortion decision since the early 1990s (when the Court upheld some abortion restrictions in state laws), this decision will not end national public policy debate.
In Tuesday (June 28) editions of The Oklahoman, reporter Chris Casteel reported that Anthony Jordan, executive director and treasurer for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, commented the ruling “is bad for women and unborn children everywhere. The common-sense law by our neighboring state should have been upheld. We will persevere, by God's grace, in our efforts to protect all human life.”
In a statement provided to The City Sentinel and other news organizations, Governor Mary Fallin -- who has signed all but one significant pro-life measure sent to her desk during her six years as chief executive -- said “It is disappointing to see another pro-life law stuck down by the courts. Like many bills passed in Oklahoma, this bill seemingly was designed to protect both unborn life and the health and life of the mother, which always should be among our society's priorities.”