As 2016 opens, pro-lifers are acutely aware of what’s at stake as the Supreme Court prepares to hear at least one major abortion case for the first time in more than two decades.
On March 2, the high court will hear oral arguments on HB2, the Texas pro-life bill that has sparked vast controversy and angered abortion supporters with its insistence on holding the abortion industry to the same standard as the medical community. If the high court upholds HB 2, it would pave the way for other states to regulate the abortion industry just as Texas has done with this bill.
HB2 resulted in many abortion facilities closing because they could not meet the safety standards the state laws required. Consequently, the Supreme Court decided to re-enter the abortion debate and consider whether HB2 places an “undue burden” on women:
The restrictions — forcing doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and requiring clinics to meet standards for outpatient surgery centers — threaten to leave the state with only 10 clinics clustered in four population centers and along the Mexican border. A similar law in Mississippi threatens to close that state’s lone abortion clinic.
Whatever the justices decide next year will help clarify the court’s 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, when a deeply divided court upheld the right to abortion while letting states impose restrictions that do not block women from obtaining services.
The past several years have resulted in many abortion restrictions in various states; it was almost inevitable that the Supreme Court would end up revisiting abortion. The Court has also been considering two other abortion restriction laws – the Arkansas 12-week abortion ban and the North Dakota fetal heartbeat abortion ban. It met last week in closed session on the Arkansas case. This Friday, on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the court has scheduled a status conference for the North Dakota case.
Speculation about which way the court may rule seems to hinge on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is generally a conservative, but doesn’t always side with what people see to be conservative issues. As Reuters notes:
Disputes over abortion rights, like gay marriage, have come down to Kennedy, a 1988 appointee of Republican President Ronald Reagan. Kennedy tipped the balance to the liberal side in gay marriage disputes in 2013 and 2015, notably in last June’s landmark ruling for a nationwide right to same-sex marriage.
Over a series of decisions, Kennedy moved consistently toward greater protection for gay men and lesbians. On abortion rights, his record has not been as predictable.
Based on their records, the current four conservatives are likely to favor the Texas law; the four liberals are likely to reject it.
With Kennedy as the likely the hinge vote, it’s hard to speculate where this pivotal case will go, but one thing is certain: This ruling will be historic and important for the nation in the abortion battle, potentially closing many abortion clinics, shifting power to the states to regulate abortion more stringently, and open the pathway for new legislation and laws that will restrict abortion and now have a precedent for them to be upheld.
Pro-lifers are hopeful that the Supreme Court will uphold the law; abortion advocates are terrified of the same thing. The nation will find out at the end of June when the Court releases its ruling on the case.