Abortion Case Appears to Split Depleted Supreme Court

The women on the Supreme Court seemed especially skeptical of Texas abortion restrictions in oral arguments in Whole Women's Health vs. Hellerstedt on Wednesday, repeatedly asking why abortion was being singled out for extra constraints when more unsafe outpatient medical procedures are not.

During the first 30 minutes of the arguments, the justices argued whether they should even be considering the case. The Associated Press, the Washington Post and the National Law Journal (sub. req.) also have early coverage of the arguments.

CBS News says that Justice Kennedy "didn't tip his hand Wednesday, although he did ask whether the Court should send the case back for more evidence". If Justice Kennedy concludes that the Texas laws are permissible, the court will likely divide 4-4, affirming the lower court opinion and leaving the regulations in effect, but making no law for the rest of the country. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] ruled [text] past year that Texas could, with very limited exception, apply the law throughout the state.

The law they're discussing now requires all abortions (by surgery or pill) be done in an ambulatory surgical center - which sounds like whatever, but puts tons of expensive requirements on clinics for really not much of a reason. "Where in the record will I find evidence of women who had complications" stemming from their abortions and "could not get to a hospital" under the previous regime but would have made it to a hospital under the new law?

If the provisions in the bill come into full effect, pro-Choice campaigners say just 10 clinics will remain, mainly in cities, drastically impacting women's access and forcing many to travel hundreds of miles for an abortion.

Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller argued that the resulting burden should not be considered "undue" as long as women "are able to make the ultimate decision to elect the procedure". "Even Justice Breyer acknowledged the state's intent in regulating abortion clinics was a legitimate desire to help further women's health and not for some nefarious objective".

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, showed up outside the court at one point and briefly addressed the abortion opponents.

It's unclear from the transcript which side Justice Anthony Kennedy will fall on - and he will be the deciding vote - but it is perfectly clear the female Supreme Court justices are total baddies who are standing up for women's health and reproductive rights.

Hospital admitting privileges and surgical center standards are irrelevant to that and are a mere smokescreen.

"Texas did have existing regulations, but increasing the standard of care is valid", Keller said, pushing back against the liberal justices' challenges.

Kennedy did indicate openness to the argument that Texas' law (known as HB2) may actually make abortion less safe, by forcing women to delay the procedure until later in pregnancy.

Ginsburg started saying childbirth has higher complications, but then Keller cut her off to try and argue otherwise.

His absence leaves only eight justices on the bench and the remaining justices are sharply divided - meaning there's a strong possibility of a split decision. He was a dominating questioner, and when he and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., fellow conservatives, worked in concert, they formed an intimidating bloc. If the case proceeds as expected, a decision should be announced in late June.

"This may not be medically wise", he said, as trends around the U.S. are leaning increasingly towards medication.

By the time the law took effect in September 2014, most women's health clinics were forced to close their doors - their officials unable to comply with tougher regulations.

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