The FAQs: The Supreme Court Case on Texas Abortion Clinics

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, the most significant abortion case since Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. Here is what you should know about the case.

What was the case about?

After the Kermit Gosnell scandal created an awareness of the unsafe, unsanitary, and largely unregulated conditions in abortion clinics in America, the State of Texas passed House Bill 2. According to Alliance Defending Freedom, HB2 — which became law in 2013 — mandates that abortion facilities adhere to ambulatory surgical center requirements common to most outpatient facilities, and it also requires abortionists to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility to be able to handle emergencies when something goes wrong.

Whole Woman's Health, an abortion provider in Texas, challenged the law in federal court, claiming it was expensive, not medically necessary, and interfered with women's health care.

What was the lower court ruling?

In June 2015, the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans disagreed with the claims of Whole Woman's Health and largely upheld the contested provisions of the Texas law. The Fifth Circuit ruled that, with minor exceptions, the law did not place an undue burden on the right to an abortion.

Why did the case go to the Supreme Court?

The plaintiffs on the side of Whole Woman's Health Women appealed the case to the Supreme Court, arguing that when applying the "undue burden" standard of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Fifth Circuit court erred by refusing to consider whether and to what extent laws that restrict abortion for the stated purpose of promoting health actually serve the government’s interest in promoting health; and that the Fifth Circuit erred in concluding that this standard permits Texas to enforce, in nearly all circumstances, laws that would cause a significant reduction in the availability of abortion services while failing to advance the State’s interest in promoting health - or any other valid interest.

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