Missouri legislators who think they can use shenanigans and ruses to block women's access to legal abortion should pay heed to Monday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling against restrictive abortion clinic regulations in Texas.
In ruling on Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, the eight-member court voted 5 to 3 to strike down two restrictions on abortion enacted by Texas in 2013 that would have shut down three-quarters of the abortion-providing clinics in that state. The court applied the Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling in 1992 regarding an "undue burden" standard to determine that Texas went too far in restricting abortion access.
This is the court's most sweeping statement on abortion rights since the 1992 decision. The ruling answers critical questions about how far states, including Missouri, can go in engineering abortion regulations that clearly are designed to impede access in the name of protecting women's health.
It poses a major setback for abortion foes who have repeatedly sought to introduce overly burdensome restrictions as a way of circumventing the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision declaring abortion access a constitutional right.
The ruling will directly affect Missouri, which has had regulations for at least a decade requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and abortion clinics to meet the safety standards of outpatient surgical centers. Both laws were the first of their kind in the nation and have withstood legal challenges.
Those same laws in Texas were struck down by the Supreme Court. Justice Stephen Breyer's majority opinion cited scientific studies and facts regarding health care and delved into the nitty-gritty of the Texas restrictions and health regulations.
"In the face of no threat to women's health, Texas seeks to force women to travel long distances to get abortions in crammed-to-capacity superfacilities," he wrote. "Patients seeking these services are less likely to get the kind of individualized attention, serious conversation, and emotional support that doctors at less taxed facilities may have offered. Health care facilities and medical professionals are not fungible commodities ... these effects would be harmful to, not supportive of, women's health."
Federal Judge Nanette Laughrey ruled in May that Planned Parenthood in Columbia, Missouri, could keep its abortion license and rebuked state legislators for pressuring the Department of Health and Senior Services to treat the clinic more harshly than other ambulatory surgical centers.
Monday's high-court decision affirms Laughrey's ruling and sounds an even louder warning to Missouri legislators to stop meddling with women's reproductive freedom.
We have no doubt that social conservatives will attempt other angles and tricks to continue blocking abortion rights. But the highest court in the land has finally called them out for the bogus claim that they're just trying to protect women's health.
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