The Supreme Court of the United States officially signaled Friday that they would hear Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, the case against Texas’ most damaging anti-choice law, House Bill 2. It’s been 20 years since the Court has heard a case concerning access to abortion, the last time being Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992.
Planned Parenthood v. Casey set the legal standard of an “undue burden” –meaning that those who take anti-choice laws to court have to prove that the law creates a “substantial obstacle” to abortion access. In Texas, House Bill 2 has closed swaths of clinics, especially those in West Texas. The Rio Grande Valley in particular would have no abortion provider had the Supreme Court not placed a stay on the law – otherwise, patients would have to make the 200+ mile drive to San Antonio to get the care that they need.
The other component of the case, according to SCOTUSblog, is “whether the Fifth Circuit erred in concluding that this standard permits Texas to enforce, in nearly all circumstances, laws that would cause a significant reduction in the availability of abortion services while failing to advance the State’s interest in promoting health – or any other valid interest.”
The timeline of abortion access in Texas since 2013.
Since Senator Wendy Davis’ historic filibuster of House Bill 2 in 2013, Texas abortion providers have opened and closed their doors as the law has bounced around the court system, having successful rulings by a federal judge in Austin only to be struck down by the more-conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Now that the court has taken up Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, the nine justices will hear the case sometime during Spring 2016. Like many of the current Court’s rulings on contentious issues, they will likely be split in their ruling, with Justice Anthony Kennedy serving as the swing vote. Similar to their order to put a stay on House Bill 2, Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, Justice Alito and Justice Thomas will likely dissent, while Justice Ginsberg, Justice Breyer, Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan will probably vote to strike down House Bill 2. Justice Kennedy will likely hold a lot of power, and Texans’ access to abortion care, in his hands.