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What SCOTUS’ Historic Abortion Ruling Means for Every Woman in America

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The Supreme Court ruled that laws restricting abortions like HB2 in Texas present an undue burden on women seeking to terminate their pregnancies. (Lorie Shaull/Flickr)

This is a huge moment for reproductive rights in the US. In the case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court voted 5-3 to strike down a seriously restrictive Texas law.

It's the biggest court decision on reproductive rights in decades.

If left unchallenged, House Bill 2 would have made it nearly impossible for many women in Texas to access safe, legal abortions.

And the Court's decision doesn't just affect Texas. Now, draconian TRAP--Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers--laws will likely be halted in a number of other states too. That's a BIG "W" for reproductive rights in America.

What was House Bill 2?

TRAP laws like HB2 are specifically used to attack women's reproductive rights and the progress made in historic court cases like Roe v. Wade, the 1973 law that made it unconstitutional to ban a woman from obtaining an abortion.

Texas' HB2 was passed in July 2013. The law banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, required abortion clinics to meet the same standards as mini-hospitals, and abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic--an unlikely and unreasonable request.

While lawmakers in Texas claimed that these restrictions were necessary for women's health, actual doctors said that HB2 was implemented specifically to put abortion clinics out of business and that none of the restrictions were medically necessary or even helpful.

In practice, HB2 had a huge effect

After the law passed, the number of abortion clinics in Texas dropped from 41 in 2012 to 18 in 2016. And if it stayed in effect, it would have further whittled the number down to 10.

Remember that there's 268,820 square miles of Texas land, y'all. It's a huge state. The remaining abortion clinics would have been clustered around the urban areas of Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. That means there would have been no clinics in a chunk of land larger than California.

Without easy access to safe and legal abortions, some women resorted to buying over-the-counter abortion pills in Mexico and performing dangerous D.I.Y. procedures.

Supreme Court justices weren't having it

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg added her own powerful paragraph. Justice Ginsburg didn't mince words. She argued that medical procedures like colonoscopies or tonsillectomies--that come with as many, or more, risks than abortions--aren't subject to insane restrictions like HB2:

“Given those realities, it is beyond rational belief that H.B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law 'would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.' When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners ... at great risk to their health and safety.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy swung the vote in favor of reproductive rights.

Former Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last February, was a famous and outspoken anti-abortion advocate. His absence meant an easier path to blocking the bill. There may have been a different ending with Scalia in the picture.

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton quickly came out in favor of the Court's decision.

What does this mean for women in Texas?

Now that HB2 has been struck down, a greater population of women in Texas will be able to access safe abortions with licensed professionals--as opposed to the downright scary and life-threatening prospect of performing a medical procedure without trained professionals and doctors.

And what does it mean for all women in the US?

The decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt means that laws directly attacking women's health and reproductive rights won't fly in the US. SCOTUS saw this bill as unconstitutional and detrimental to the individual rights of American citizens.

There are currently cases like Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt pending in other Southern states. This ruling means that these restrictive laws likely won't hold up to scrutiny.

In the words of Justice Ginsburg:

“Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws like H.B. 2 that ‘do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion,’ cannot survive judicial inspection.”

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What SCOTUS’ Historic Abortion Ruling Means for Every Woman in America

Clementine Amidon

Clementine is a graduate of Mount Holyoke, where she studied English and French. Her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, the New York Observer, USA Today, BUST, and Odyssey. Clementine is an undercover short story writer, and in her spare time she’s on a quest to craft the perfect tweet.

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