Though the Supreme Court is our third branch of government, possessing one-third of the federal government’s power, research suggests that the public knows very little about the justices and their activity. The Court has announced various landmark decisions throughout history that have affected everyone’s life — the constitutionality of segregation, same-sex marriage, the federal government’s implied powers over the states, free speech, privacy and a woman’s fundamental right to have an abortion. In June, the Supreme Court will decide on a significant abortion case, and the public, particularly women, should keep a close eye on it.
The upcoming case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, stems from states’ harsh restrictions on abortions and will be the first major abortion case since 2007. The restrictions in many conservative states are pushing the limits of the fundamental right to abortion decided in the historical Roe v. Wade case in 1973. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a follow-up case to Roe, the court determined that states cannot place an ‘undue burden’ on abortions before fetal viability. The court noted that undue burdens included “unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion.”
However, citizens feel that a recent Texas law is not complying with the ruling.
The Texas law was passed by a Republican led legislature and signed into law in 2013. This law imposes strict regulations on abortion clinics to meet standards for ambulatory surgical centers, which include requiring physicians performing abortions to have access to a nearby hospital. Defenders of this law claim that Texas is just protecting maternal health, but challengers argue that these requirements are unnecessary and aimed to create obstacles for women obtaining an abortion. If the law remains, Texas’ original 40 abortion clinics will be reduced to ten. Ten abortion clinics in the second-largest state in the country, home to over 5 million women of reproductive age.
Currently the outcome of the case is extremely unpredictable. With four conservative justices and four liberal justices, the decision will likely fall in the hands of common swing-vote in justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy has a slim pro-abortion record, but he did write the majority opinion for the approval of same-sex marriage earlier this year. Kennedy sided with liberals on the same-sex marriage case due to his strong belief in human dignity. In that case, Kennedy wrote, “the opportunity to marry is integral to human dignity,” and that “excluding gay and lesbian couples from marriage demeans the dignity of these couples.” It could be predicted that the semi-conservative Kennedy, who was appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan, would side with the conservative judges on the upcoming case. But others make the argument that Kennedy may apply his dignity argument to abortion as well.
Women all over the country need to pay attention to this case since it has the potential to affect millions of women and the standard for abortion. This case goes much further than just your typical pro-choice and pro-life debate. No matter your stance on abortion, this case has to do with whether a woman’s fundamental right will be upheld. States need highly specified and significant reasons for imposing on a person’s fundamental rights. If the Supreme Court allows states to impose these strict burdens on women, it is pointless to refer to abortion as a fundamental right. In a 7-2 vote in Roe, justices determined that abortion is legal in the Constitution and cannot be restricted by individual states. If the court allows states to create strict laws like the one in Texas, our nation will be heading backwards by limiting reproductive rights for the millions of women in this country.