Supreme Court Takes Up Major Abortion Case Today

Different political groups are vying for influence on the future of the U.S. Supreme Court. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Different political groups are vying for influence on the future of the U.S. Supreme Court. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The Supreme Court takes up its most far-reaching case on abortion rights in nearly a quarter century Wednesday, with the fate of abortion restrictions in many states on the line.

Depleted by the death last month of Justice Antonin Scalia, the eight-member court will consider a challenge mounted by Texas abortion clinics against a law that threatens to leave only 10 clinics operating in a state with 5.4 million women of reproductive age.

Hundreds of abortion rights proponents and a much smaller number of opponents demonstrated outside the court before the oral argument, while inside lawyers for the state and clinics seek to sway a single justice — Anthony Kennedy, who holds the deciding vote between four liberal justices and three other conservatives.

The most immediate impact of the case will be felt in Texas, where more than 40 abortion facilities have dwindled to 18 under restrictions that set tougher operating standards for clinics and require doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at area hospitals. If the restrictions are upheld, additional clinics will close.

Without Scalia, however, the state probably can do no better than a 4-4 vote upholding last year’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. That would apply to Texas, Mississiippi and Louisiana, but no further.

If Kennedy and the court’s liberal justices strike down any part of the law, on the other hand, the decision could implicate similar abortion restrictions imposed by conservative legislatures in other states. Such a ruling could be the biggest victory for supporters of abortion rights since two prior landmark decisions: Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in 1973, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which set the current rules for restrictions in 1992.

“This isn’t just about Texas,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said on the eve of the Supreme Court showdown, noting some 250 restrictions have been imposed across the country in the past five years. Those restrictions range from 24-hour waiting periods and parental notification laws, mostly upheld by lower courts, to bans on abortion after six or 12 weeks, which courts have blocked.

Ten states have laws restricting doctors, and six have laws as strict as Texas’s concerning operating standards, but courts have blocked several of those from taking effect.’

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SOURCE:  Richard Wolf