By Tracy Lindsay, ACLU-SD Legal Intern
In the most significant ruling on abortion since Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decided on Monday, June 27th 2016 to strike down parts of the Texas laws that significantly restricted women’s access to abortion and has led to the closing of nearly half of the 40 abortion clinics in Texas. The Court found that the law’s requirements—that abortion clinics have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and clinics, and meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers—were medically groundless and presented undue burden on women’s rights to abortion and thus, in violation of the 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, where the court affirmed that states could restrict abortions to protect women’s health as long as those limits did not create undue burden.
While Texas’ laws claimed to have been for the benefit of women’s health, they would have negatively impacted the 5.4 million women of childbearing age who live in Texas that would only have access to the nine abortion clinics that passed the law’s requirements. The laws would also have disproportionately affected poor women, particularly Asian American and Pacific Islander women of childbearing age in Texas, who not only face language barriers with abortion access but would also face higher expenses due to travel and procedural costs.
While the ruling has immediate implications for Texas, it is important to consider the impact of this ruling beyond Texas, as the ruling does not automatically nullify existing restrictions in all states. This raises several key questions – such as its impact on laws in states similar to Texas, a prime example being South Dakota. Presently, South Dakota has some of the strictest laws on abortion in place. This year alone, the state passed a law that prohibits abortions at 20 weeks. The law penalizes doctors who perform or attempt to perform any such abortions in non-emergency situations with jail time, a fine, or both. Given that the state only has one abortion clinic, which performs abortions up to 13 weeks of gestation, the law significantly restricts further access to abortion and raises concerns about illegal channels that women may be forced to use.
Indeed, while the court’s ruling comes as a victory, it is important that we recognize that the work to protect women’s reproductive rights is far from over. In the past five years alone, politicians across the country have quietly passed more than 300 restrictions on access to abortion. The ACLU believes that it’s long past time for politicians to stop interfering in a decision that should be between a woman, her family, and her doctor. No matter how you feel about abortion, it is important that we all recognize that the decisions concerning a woman’s body should not be left to politicians.