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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 1, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 27
SCOTUS reaffirms reproductive choice in two decisions
Section One
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SCOTUS reaffirms reproductive choice in two decisions

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The US Supreme Court reaffirmed its previous rulings in favor of reproductive choice in two cases, one of them from Washington state.

On June 27, the high court struck down a 2013 Texas law aimed at shutting down abortion providers under the pretext of enhancing safety protections for patients. The law required doctors who provided abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and required abortion clinics to meet the same construction standards as full-service hospitals.

Abortion providers said the rules would have cut the number of abortion clinics in the state by three-fourths if they had been allowed to take full effect.

When then-Gov. Rick Perry signed the law in 2013, there were about 40 clinics throughout the state. That number dropped to under 20 and would have been cut in half again if the law had taken full effect, the clinics said.

The Supreme Court ruled by a 5-3 vote that the Texas regulations imposed an 'undue burden' on women who wanted abortions, a procedure that the high court previously said was constitutionally protected.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority that 'the surgical-center requirement, like the admitting privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women; poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions; and constitutes an 'undue burden' on their constitutional right to do so.'

The Texas law served as a model for similar legislation in other states, and similar lawsuits are pending in federal courts in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Wisconsin.

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan joined Breyer. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.

In a second decision the next day, the court declined to hear an appeal of a 2007 Washington law forbidding pharmacies from withholding medications for reasons of religious belief. The law had been challenged by pharmacy owners who refused to dispense so-called 'morning-after pills' on the grounds that they believed the meds were equivalent to abortion.

A federal district judge ruled the law unconstitutional, but the 9th Circuit Court reversed that ruling. With the Supreme Court refusing to hear the appeal of the 9th Circuit decision, the law remains on the books and enforceable.

Roberts, Alito, and Thomas dissented in this case too.

'If this is a sign of how our religious liberty claims will be treated in the years again, those who value religious liberty have cause for great concern,' the three dissenting justices said.

As is customary in cases where the high court does not take an appeal, the majority did not issue an opinion detailing their reasoning. At least four justices must agree to take an appeal for the court to schedule it for a hearing.

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