AUSTIN, Texas – “This is outrageous and unacceptable – and also demonstrates why we need stronger federal protections for women’s health. Your rights and your ability to make your own medical decisions should not depend on your ZIP code.”
The woman making that statement was Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, in reaction to Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling that allows the state of Texas to continue enforcing harsh abortion restrictions.
With a 5-4 vote, the high court’s conservative majority left in place a provision requiring doctors who perform abortions in clinics to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital – regardless of location or the unproven willingness of said hospital to grant such rights.
Planned Parenthood and several Lone Star clinics had pleaded for the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court ruling that kept the provision in effect while the overall law is appealed. Earlier a judge had said the requirement made no sense and should be suspended pending the outcome of the larger appeal.
The law as a whole remains on appeal with New Orleans’ 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, where arguments are expected to be heard in January.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who sided with the liberal minority, indicated that the case, once ruled on by the 5th Circuit, is likely to return to the highest court for a conclusive end to the battle, which began this past summer in Texas when the Republican-dominated legislature pushed through the harsh abortion restrictions.
Previous rulings related to the issue of abortion have left in place restrictions when they do not pose an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.
Texas is the second largest state in the country, with much of the rural population strung across hundreds of miles in West Texas and the Panhandle.
The de facto shutdown of most of the specialized women’s health clinics means that women and their families in rural Texas must pony up gas and travel money, as well as miss work. It adds up to a financial hit that may not be burdensome to a woman of means, but poses a hardship to those not quite so fortunate.
Down in the Valley, population numbers are higher, but so is the poverty rate. Many here observe that the anti-abortion decision treats women from up in Dalhart down to Brownsville the same – as pawns without voices in a religiously-motivated crusade against women’s rights.
Justice Breyer decried the decision not to block the admitting privileges requirement for the time being until a final ruling is issued. He said, “The harms to the individual women whose rights it restricts while it remains in effect will be permanent.”
For her part, Richards pledged, “We will take every step we can to protect the health of Texas women. This law is blocking women in Texas from getting a safe and legal medical procedure that has been their constitutionally protected right for 40 years.”
Photo: National Day of Action to Defend Women’s Rights rally at Dallas City Hall, July 15, 2013. Steve Rainwater CC 2.0