WASHINGTON, D.C.—Texas abortion clinics due to close July 1 for failing to comply with regulations established in 2013 received a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court, which voted 5-4 June 29 to halt full implementation of the twice-contested House Bill 2 (HB 2) that established a sweeping overhaul of the abortion industry in the state.
Though disappointed, Texans for Life President Kyleen Wright said the ruling is an indication the high court will take up the case in the fall when it begins a new session.
Implementation of the measures requiring abortion clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center standards and their doctors to receive admitting privileges at a nearby hospital were stayed pending an appeal before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. An application to the Supreme Court for a continued stay was granted and will remain in force until the high court decides to take up the case of Whole Women’s Health v. Lakey. If the court hears the case, the stay will stay in effect until a decision is rendered.
Pro-choice advocates cheered the order. Since the enactment of HB 2 during the 2013 legislative session, the number of abortion clinics has dwindled from about 41 to 16. A fully implemented law would have dropped the number to eight or nine.
On June 9, the Fifth Circuit Court overturned a lower court’s ruling that declared the provisions pose an “undue burden” for Texas women seeking an abortion. The appellate court ruled the law could be fully implemented beginning July 1.
Laws similar to the provisions of HB 2 have been passed and challenged in other states, but pro-life advocates believe it will be HB 2 that will be presented to the Supreme Court. And although some pro-life advocates believe Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has “grown more pro-life” during his tenure on the bench, Wright is not confident in the court’s ability to judge the case on the merits of the law instead of emotion and public opinion.
Media reports and publicity from pro-choice activists misrepresented the June 9 ruling. And despite evidence to the contrary, Wright said, “There has been a large and loud campaign that all clinics will be closed.”
If the Supreme Court takes up HB 2, it will have to define a term it created yet left up to interpretation by lower courts—“undue burden.” The subjective term has been the critical point upon which other abortion regulating laws have been challenged.
Voting for the stay were Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, and Justice Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. would deny the application.