WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court dealt a blow to abortion restrictions Monday, striking down a Texas law that set impossible-to-meet standards for clinics to operate in the state.
Whole Woman's Health led the legal challenge to the law, House Bill 2, which specifies abortions must be performed in hospital-style surgical centers and can only be performed by doctors with admitting privileges to hospitals within 30 miles.
With few abortion providers able to meet the new regulations, the Supreme Court blocked Texas from implementing the law pending its review.
That review found Texas' regulations unconstitutional today.
"We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority. "Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution."
Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan concurred in the 40-page majority holding.
They said Texas failed to show that its regulations held any medical benefit to women.
"When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case," Breyer said, referring to the requirement about admitting privileges.
Against the questionable benefits of such a regulation, Breyer noted that the obstacles it puts in the way of a woman's treatment choices are "substantial."
Breyer found the evidence sufficient to show "that the admitting-privileges requirement led to the closure of half of Texas' clinics, or thereabouts."
"Those closures meant fewer doctors, longer waiting times, and increased crowding," he added. "Record evidence also supports the finding that after the admitting-privileges provision went into effect, the 'number of women of reproductive age living in a county ... more than 150 miles from a provider increased from approximately 86,000 to 400,000 ... and the number of women living in a county more than 200 miles from a provider from approximately 10,000 to 290,000.'"
Supporters of the abortion providers briefed the court on why the lack of medical necessity also made the admitting-privileges requirement impossible to meet.
"During the past 10 years, over 17,000 abortion procedures were performed at the El Paso clinic [and n]ot a single one of those patients had to be transferred to a hospital for emergency treatment, much less admitted to the hospital," one brief quoted in the opinion says. "In a word, doctors would be unable to maintain admitting privileges or obtain those privileges for the future, because the fact that abortions are so safe meant that providers were unlikely to have any patients to admit."
As for the surgical-center requirement, Breyer cited the District Court's findings "indicating that the statutory provision requiring all abortion facilities to meet all surgical-center standards does not benefit patients and is not necessary."
"The record makes clear that the surgical-center requirement provides no benefit when complications arise in the context of an abortion produced through medication," Breyer wrote. "That is because, in such a case, complications would almost always arise only after the patient has left the facility. The record also contains evidence indicating that abortions taking place in an abortion facility are safe — indeed, safer than numerous procedures that take place outside hospitals and to which Texas does not apply its surgical-center requirements."