Supreme Court Strikes Down Women's Health Measures in Name of Abortion Access

Reading the headlines on the case Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, you might think Texas passed laws on "abortion access," as CNN put it, or aiming to undermine Roe v. Wade. In the actual ruling, the Supreme Court struck down a law which held abortion clinics to higher medical standards, something arguably necessary after the horrifying stories of Kermit Gosnell's "house of horrors" in Philadelphia, PA. (Gosnell received life in prison).

In a dramatic 5-3 ruling, the Court struck down Texas' House Bill 2 on Monday. Justice Stephen Breyer, a Bill Clinton appointee, argued in the Court's opinion that "there was no significant health-related problem that the new law helped to cure."

The law had two provisions at issue: one saying that doctors have to have local admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and another saying that clinics have to upgrade their facilities to hospital-like standards. Critics said the law would force abortion clinics to close, creating a problem of access for the 5.4 million women of reproductive age in the state. Nevertheless, the laws were not focused on abortion access but increasing health standards for the clinics.

"We agree with the District Court that the surgical-center requirement, like the admitting-privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an 'undue burden' on their constitutional right to do so," Breyer wrote.

Justice Anthony Kennedy proved the swing vote, joining Breyer in the majority, but declining to write a concurring opinion. "The fact that Justice Kennedy gave away this opinion assignment and didn't write separately is striking," CNN contributor and law processor at American University Steve Vladeck told CNN.

"Kennedy has not only been the swing vote on abortion issues since he joined the Court in 1988, but he has written an opinion in virtually every major abortion case during that time, including the majority opinion in the Court's controversial 2007 decision upholding the federal ban on so-called 'partial birth' abortions," Vladeck added.

In a bitter dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas tore apart the decision as nothing less than rampant judicial activism. "As the Court applies whatever standard it likes to any given case, nothing but empty words separates our constitutional decisions from judicial fiat," Thomas wrote.

"The court has simultaneously transformed judicially created rights like the right to abortion into preferred constitutional rights, while disfavoring many of the rights actually enumerated in the Constitution," Thomas added. "But our Constitution renounces the notion that some constitutional rights are more equal than others."

Next Page: Judicial activism, and reports of a second Kermit Gosnell in Texas -- suggesting these bills had a good reason.