Today, the United States Supreme Court will take up the most important abortion rights case in at least a decade, hearing arguments over the constitutionality of a Texas law that imposes onerous requirements on abortion providers. The law – HB 2 – sparked a slew of clinic closures in Texas and has dramatically impeded access to abortion for women in the state.On its face, the law’s technical requirements – such as clinics meeting certain building standards and doctors maintaining admitting privileges at local hospitals – may seem removed from the abortion debate. But there is little doubt among advocates on either side that this case is about the future of reproductive rights and access to abortion in the US.
The Texas law is one of dozens of targeted regulation of abortion providers laws passed by state legislatures. While they claim to protect women’s health by setting standards, these laws have little to do with the reality of abortion procedures, which are low-risk and safer than other procedures, like colonoscopies, regularly performed in doctors’ offices or outpatient clinics.
Instead, laws like the one before the court right now serve to regulate abortion providers off the map by making it logistically difficult and extremely costly to stay in operation. Since HB 2 passed, 21 out of 40 providers in Texas have shut their doors; another nine or 10 hang in the balance. A recent analysis found that at least 162 abortion clinics had closed across the country since 2011, while only 21 new clinics opened their doors.
Very little remains of a right if the government can make it nearly impossible to exercise. As the amicus brief filed by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health points out, that is why the European Court of Human Rights has held that where a country legally permits abortion, “it must not structure its legal framework in a way which would limit real possibilities to obtain [an abortion].” The Supreme Court should recognize that for women in Texas, and in some other states that have enacted similar laws, those real possibilities are fast disappearing.