US Supreme Court strikes down restrictive Texas abortion law

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Supreme Court Overturns Texas Abortion Law

WASHINGTON, June 27 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Texas abortion law imposing strict regulations on doctors and facilities in the strongest endorsement of abortion rights in America in more than two decades.

The 5-3 ruling held that the Republican-backed 2013 Texas law placed an undue burden on women exercising their right under the U.S. Constitution to end a pregnancy, established in thecourt's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The abortion providers who challenged the law said it was medically unnecessary and specifically intended to shut clinics.

RELATED: Demonstrators gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court

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US Supreme Court strikes down restrictive Texas abortion law
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US Supreme Court strikes down restrictive Texas abortion law
Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A demonstrator wearing a cowboy hat with a uterus symbol holds a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is set to rule on a legal challenge by abortion providers to a Texas law requiring doctors performing the procedure to have "admitting privileges" at local hospitals and clinics to meet hospital-grade standards in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to decide today whether a Republican-backed 2013 Texas law placed an undue burden on women exercising their constitutional right to abortion in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A woman wearing a cowboy hat with a uterus symbol demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is set to rule on a legal challenge by abortion providers to a Texas law requiring doctors performing the procedure to have "admitting privileges" at local hospitals and clinics to meet hospital-grade standards in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Pro-abortion rights protesters and anti-abortion protesters jostle with their signs as they demonstrate in the hopes of a ruling in their favor on decisions at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Pro-abortion rights protesters and anti-abortion protesters jostle with their signs as they demonstrate in the hopes of a ruling in their favor on decisions at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Pro-abortion rights protesters and anti-abortion protesters jostle with their signs as they demonstrate in the hopes of a ruling in their favor on decisions at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A protester holds up a sign in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on the morning the court takes up a major abortion case focusing on whether a Texas law that imposes strict regulations on abortion doctors and clinic buildings interferes with the constitutional right of a woman to end her pregnancy, in Washington March 2, 2016. Picture taken March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Pro-choice activists wait for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. A ruling is expected in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case the places restrictions on abortion clinics, as well as rulings in the former Virginia Governor's corruption case and a gun rights case. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Pro-choice activists wait for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. A ruling is expected in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case the places restrictions on abortion clinics, as well as rulings in the former Virginia Governor's corruption case and a gun rights case. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Pro-life activist, Ryan Orr, 17, of Manassas, Va, waits holds a silent vigil as he waits for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. A ruling is expected in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case the places restrictions on abortion clinics, as well as rulings in the former Virginia Governor's corruption case and a gun rights case. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Pro-choice activist, Jaimie Ermak, 24, from Washington, D.C., waits for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. A ruling is expected in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case the places restrictions on abortion clinics, as well as rulings in the former Virginia Governor's corruption case and a gun rights case. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
Abortion rights activists hold placards outside of the US Supreme Court ahead of an expected ruling on abortion clinic restrictions on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / Mandel Ngan (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Abortion rights activists hold placards outside of the US Supreme Court ahead of an expected ruling on abortion clinic restrictions on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Abortion rights activists hold placards outside of the US Supreme Court ahead of an expected ruling on abortion clinic restrictions on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Pro-choice and pro-life protesters clash in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on a day where two important decisions on immigration and affirmative action were handed down by the court, on June 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. A decision in the case over a Texas law requiring clinics providing abortion services to meet the same building standards as walk-in surgical centers had been expected but was deferred. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, center, and other pro-life protesters clash with pro-choice protesters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on a day where two important decisions on immigration and affirmative action were handed down by the court, on June 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. A decision in the case over a Texas law requiring clinics providing abortion services to meet the same building standards as walk-in surgical centers had been expected but was deferred. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Pro-choice and pro-life demonstrators rally outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday morning, June 20, 2016. The court is expected to hand down their decision on a Texas law which requires clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers and forces doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: A pro-life protester holds a sign in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on a day where two important decisions on immigration and affirmative action were handed down by the court, on June 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. A decision in the case over a Texas law requiring clinics providing abortion services to meet the same building standards as walk-in surgical centers had been expected but was deferred. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
Activists demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, June 27, 2016, as the justices close out the term with decisions on abortion, guns, and public corruption are expected. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Demonstrators on both sides of the abortion issue stand in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, June 20, 2016, as the court announced several decisions. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Activists demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, June 27, 2016, as the justices close out the term with decisions on abortion, guns, and public corruption are expected. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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Texas officials said it was intended to protect women's health. The ruling means similar laws in other states are probably unconstitutional and could put in jeopardy other types of abortion restrictions enacted in various conservative states.

"The decision should send a loud signal to politicians that they can no longer hide behind sham rationales to shut down clinics and prevent a woman who has decided to end a pregnancy from getting the care she needs," said Jennifer Dalven, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.

President Barack Obama, whose administration backed the abortion providers in the courtchallenge, said in a statement he was "pleased to see the Supreme Court protect women's rights and health" and that restrictions like those in Texas "harm women's health and place an unconstitutional obstacle in the path of a woman's reproductive freedom."

Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the court's four liberal members in the ruling, with the remaining three conservatives dissenting. The court declared that both key provisions of the law - requiring abortion doctors to have difficult-to-obtain "admitting privileges" at a local hospital and requiring clinics to have costly hospital-grade facilities - violated a woman's right to an abortion.

Writing for the court, liberal Justice Stephen Breyer said, "We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes."

"Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a pre-viability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution," Breyer added.

Deferring to state legislatures over "questions of medical uncertainty is also inconsistent with thiscourt's case law," Breyer added.

The ruling in the case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, represented the most vigorous affirmation of abortion rights in the United States since a 1992 ruling affirmed a woman's right to have the procedure.

On a warm sunny summer day, hundreds of people on both sides of the issue converged on theSupreme Court building, with abortion rights advocates dancing and celebrating after the ruling. "We're ecstatic. The reality is today women won," abortion rights activist Marcela Howell said.

The law was passed by a Republican-led legislature and signed by a Republican governor in 2013. Ten states currently have admitting privileges requirements on the books while six have laws requiring hospital-grade facilities. Lower courts have blocked admitting privileges provisions in five states and halted facilities regulations in two states.

"The decision erodes states' lawmaking authority to safeguard the health and safety of women and subjects more innocent life to being lost. Texas' goal is to protect innocent life, while ensuring the highest health and safety standards for women," Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott said.

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A circular staircase is seen in the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
A marble staircase leads down to an elevator at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
A notice is seen on a lectern, which faces the bench and where lawyers stand to argue, in the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stands in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "SCOTUS" FOR THIS STORY. THE IMAGES SHOULD ONLY BE USED TOGETHER WITH THE STORY - NO STAND-ALONE USES. IMAGE FOR USE AND PUBLICATION ONLY AS PART OF REUTERS SUPREME COURT "Marble, drape and justice: inside the U.S. Supreme Court" PHOTO ESSAY UNTIL AFTER OCTOBER 1, 2017.
Elevator operator Johnnie Bacon, from Washington, smiles at a passenger as he tends one of the elevators in the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
People hold umbrellas on a rainy day at the plaza by the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy delivers a lecture for visiting international attorneys in the West Conference Room at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Daniel Agbleze waters flowers in one of the four inner courtyards at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
The courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Visitors look on as attorney John Duggan (R) takes photos with his family, after arguing a case at the U.S. Supreme Court building, on the first day of the court's new term in Washington, U.S. October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Historical and mythical figures of the law are seen in a frieze in the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Red velvet drapes hang at the back of the courtroom at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
A clock hangs above the bench in the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Name plates mark the spaces reserved for justices' families in the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer looks for a favourite volume of Proust in his rare book collection in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. June 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows the many different collars (jabots) she wears with her robes, in her chambers, at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben departs the U.S. Justice Department in traditional morning coat on his way to argue his one-hundredth case before the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
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Since the law was passed, the number of abortion clinics in Texas, the second-most-populous U.S. state with about 27 million people, had dropped from 41 to 19.

The Supreme Court has appeals pending in two cases involving admitting privilege laws in Mississippi and Wisconsin on which it could act as soon as Tuesday.

The Texas law required abortion doctors to have "admitting privileges," a type of formal affiliation, at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of the clinic so they can treat patients needing surgery or other critical care.

The law also required clinic buildings to possess costly, hospital-grade facilities. These regulations covered numerous building features such as corridor width, the swinging motion of doors, floor tiles, parking spaces, elevator size, ventilation, electrical wiring, plumbing, floor tiling and even the angle that water flows from drinking fountains.

PUBLIC OPINION SPLIT

Americans remain closely divided over whether abortion should be legal. In a Reuters/Ipsos online poll involving 6,769 U.S. adults conducted from June 3 to June 22, 47 percent of respondents said abortion generally should be legal and 42 percent said it generally should be illegal.

Views on abortion in the United States have changed very little over the decades, according to historical polling data.

The last time the justices decided a major abortion case was nine years ago when they ruled 5-4 to uphold a federal law banning a late-term abortion procedure.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman's Health, which led the challenge to the Texas law, said, "Every day Whole Woman's Health treats our patients with compassion, respect and dignity - and today the Supreme Court did the same. We're thrilled that today justice was served and our clinics stay open."

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Twitter called the ruling "a victory for women in Texas and across America."

"This fight isn't over: The next president has to protect women's health. Women won't be 'punished' for exercising their basic rights," she said, a dig at presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who once suggested women who get illegal abortions should face "some sort of punishment." The presidential election is Nov. 8.

Some U.S. states have pursued a variety of restrictions on abortion, including banning certain types of procedures, prohibiting it after a certain number of weeks of gestation, requiring parental permission for girls until a certain age, imposing waiting periods or mandatory counseling, and others.

"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," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, said in a statement.

Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito dissented. The normally nine-justice court was one member short after the Feb. 13 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who consistently opposed abortion in past rulings.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Adam DeRose, Jon Herskovitz and David Ingram; Editing by Will Dunham)

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