WASHINGTON (CN) - The women of the Supreme Court had a lot to say Wednesday morning about a Texas law that could cut off abortion access for millions of Americans.
"According to you, the slightest health improvement is enough to impose on hundreds of thousands of women - even assuming I accept your argument, which I don't necessarily because it's being challenged - but the slightest benefit is enough to burden the lives of a million women," Justice Sonia Sotomayor thundered at Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller. "That's your point?"
With the cheers of protesters outside occasionally piercing though his argument, Keller urged the justices to uphold a 2013 Texas law challengers say unduly burdens women's ability to acquire an abortion.
The court has not said much about the issue since 1992 and appeared divided along partisan lines for this morning's hearing - both camps voicing frustration over a factual record they said failed to demonstrate the law's impact either way.
House Bill 2 requires that abortions be done in a hospital-style surgery center, and that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
Keller faced a skewering by the court's four liberal justices, three of whom are women, as to how such provisions improve patient safety in the nation's second most populous state.
Saying Texas offered no proof that the law is medically justified, the female justices clamored for evidence that it does not place an undue burden on women seeking an abortion.
Justice Elena Kagan noted that about 10,000 Texas women lived further than 200 miles from an abortion clinic in 2002. The number has spiked since then to 750,000.
The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist each filed briefs in support of the challenger, a nonprofit called Whole Woman's Health, stating that laws are unnecessary and put women's health at risk.
Against these expert opinions, Keller said "some doctors do believe that there are benefits for the ASC and admitting-privileges requirement," abbreviating ambulatory surgical center.
Though the Center for Reproductive Rights counted a drop in Texas abortion clinics - from 42 to 19 - since the HB 2's passage, the conservative justices said Whole Woman's Health failed to show that the Texas law was responsible.
"There is very little specific evidence in the record in this case with respect to why any particular clinic closed," said Justice Samuel Alito. "Basically, your argument is that the law took effect, and after that point, there was a decrease in the number of clinics."
Representing the nonprofit challenger at the hearing, Center for Reproductive Rights attorney Stephanie Toti said her clients have testified at length to this very issue.
"The plaintiffs testified that clinics closed in anticipation of enforcement in some cases, and in some cases because of actual enforcement of the requirements," Toti said.
Alito pressed back, citing a Huffington Post article that attributed the closure of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas to budget cuts for family-planning services under the 2011 Texas Women's Health Program bill, not the current law under review.
Toti responded that she has direct evidence for 12 of the shuttered clinics that link their closures to the HB 2.