The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear Whole Women’s Health v. Cole next term. The case, which deals with abortion restrictions that Texas passed in 2013, represents a major test of the anti-choice movement’s long-term strategy of cutting off abortion access through incremental legislation rather than directly challenging the right to abortion. This comes after the court’s announcement last week that it will hear another challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate, testing how far the Religious Right can stretch the meaning of religious liberty in attempting to cut off access to reproductive rights.
In the Huffington Post today, People For the American Way’s Elliot Mincberg explains what’s at stake in the Texas case:
The Texas case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, concerns a law imposing restrictions on clinics so severe that they would reduce the number of clinics that perform abortions in the state from more than 40 a few years ago to just 10, including none at all in the 500 miles between San Antonio and the New Mexico border. The state has claimed that the limits, requiring extensive hospital-like equipment and doctors with hospital admitting privileges even for clinics that offer abortions only through oral medication, are important to protect women’s health. These claims are belied not only by the medical evidence, but also by Texas politicians’ statements, such as Governor Rick Perry’s vow to “pass laws to ensure” that abortions are “as rare as possible.”
That law clearly violates the 5-4 ruling of the Court in Casey, which upheld the basic right to choose of Roe v. Wade, and held that such laws must truly be important to protect women’s health and not impose an “undue burden” on that right. Will the Court uphold and correctly apply Casey and continue to protect reproductive rights? Given the stark divisions on the Court, the answer may well come down to the vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the last member of the five-person Casey majority who is still on the Court today.
This case represents the culmination of a decades-long strategy by the anti-choice movement — most notably the legal group Americans United for Life, which helped draft the Texas bill — to restrict abortion access to the point where the right to abortion exists in theory but not in practice. If the Supreme Court agrees to further weaken the protections of Roe v. Wade, it could open the door for many more onerous restrictions on abortion providers and women seeking abortions.