US Supreme Court

In a 5-3 ruling Monday morning in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down two laws restricting abortion access in Texas, calling them an “undue burden” that place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion — a ruling that also will undermine similar legislation in other states.

The Texas laws ruled unconstitutional required doctors who performed abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and mandated clinics performing abortions to have facilities comparable to outpatient surgical centers — which in combination have led to the closure of the large majority of such clinics in Texas. The majority opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer argued that while the medical benefits to the legislation were minimal, the barriers created to access of a safe and legal procedure were substantial and unnecessary.

“We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,” wrote Breyer. “Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the Federal Constitution.”

The ACLU of Kentucky’s Derek Selznick hailed the ruling as an important victory for women across the country, including Kentucky, where “politicians have tried legislative session after legislative session to adopt these same policies that have no medical or safety purpose, and were designed only to limit access to safe and legal abortion.”

While the specific Texas laws in this case have been blocked in recent sessions of the Kentucky General Assembly, Monday’s ruling would likely mean their implementation would be blocked if passed in future sessions. Selznick also referred to two of Kentucky’s three clinics performing abortions being shut down by the administration of Gov. Matt Bevin this year over licensure issues — EMW Women’s Clinic in Lexington and Planned Parenthood in Louisville — adding that “the work to protect a woman’s ability to get an abortion if she needs one is far from over.”

“Right now we have a crisis of access here in Kentucky where only one abortion clinic is in operation, while two others are shuttered in legal limbo,” said Selznick. “It’s long past time for Kentucky politicians to stop interfering in a decision that should be between a woman, her family, and her doctor.”

Attorney Joe Dunman of Clay Daniel Walton & Adams — the firm representing Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky in the Louisville case — tells IL that the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt ruling has no direct impact on the licensure cases of both clinics, but “what the ruling may do is fuel a constitutional challenge, should Planned Parenthood’s request for a license be denied for some reason that is either unreasonable or arbitrary.”

“It’s just another weapon that clinics can use to defend themselves against other restrictions that have nothing to do with women’s health and everything to do with banning abortion,” said Dunman.

Bevin’s spokeswoman Amanda Stamper told IL in an emailed statement that while the administration disagrees with Monday’s Supreme Court ruling, it does not directly impact Kentucky’s regulation of abortion clinics or their pending litigation against two of those clinics.

‘This ruling has no bearing on the Commonwealth’s litigation against the unlicensed abortion clinics in Kentucky,” wrote Stamper. “While we deeply disagree with the basis for the majority’s holding and its refusal to give due deference to the Texas legislature, this decision does not directly impact Kentucky’s regulation of abortion clinics. Kentucky law does not require abortion providers to meet standards for ambulatory surgical centers or for doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, as did the Texas statutes at issue in the case.”