The United States Supreme Court is currently debating one of the most important bills on abortion in the past two decades.
The bill from Texas, which former Democratic Texas State Senator Wendy Davis famously filibustered in 2013, would grant doctors admitting privileges at hospitals for abortions, and clinics would be forced to upgrade facilities to hospital standards, which would force abortion clinics outside of highly populated metropolitan areas to close their doors, leaving about 10 clinics left in the state.
Three female supreme court justices, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan led the questioning against Republican Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller over the impacts the bill would have, particularly on women from low income backgrounds.
The debate is the first major decision in the United States Supreme Court since the death of Antonin Scalia. As one seat on the Supreme Court remains unfilled, a 4-4 tie over the bill is very likely. If that were to happen, the bill would be allowed to go into effect in Texas, but not set a precedent nationally. If a split occurs, the debate could also be brought back to the Supreme Court when the seat is filled.
When Keller made the argument some abortion clinics would still allow to be opened in the state, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg rebuked, “How many women are located over 100 miles from the nearest clinic?” Keller cited New Mexico as a location for some women under that category to use, which Ginsburg then pointed out New Mexico does not have the same provisions as the Texas law. “If your argument is right, then New Mexico is not an available way out,” she said.
Justice Elena Kagan cited the Texas bill would disenfranchise over 900,000 women who live 150 miles away or more from an abortion clinic in the state. She also cited 750,000 women live more than 200 miles away, but before the law was passed in Texas, that number was 10,000.
Justice Sotomayor challenged Keller over whether the changes would yield any slight health improvement, and if that was worth burdening the lives of millions of women in Texas.
The Justice who could break the 4-4 tie is Anthony Kennedy, whose vote could either strike down the bill 5-3, or give the conservative justices the 4-4 tie to keep the debate open, which would give the GOP even more incentive to stall a Supreme Court Justice nomination from President Barack Obama.
The past few years, Texas’ GOP has led a legislative war on abortion clinics. Under the guise of improving women’s health and safety, the bill is just another measure to make it more difficult for a woman to undergo an abortion by eliminating access. Prior to 2014, there were 40 abortion clinics in the state. After some provisions of the anti-abortion law went into effect after it was passed in 2013, the number was cut in half. If the bill is allowed to pass, the number would drop down again to ten, all solely located around Texas’ biggest cities.
The Supreme Court is expected to come to a decision by late June.
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