Rally for Choice: The Supreme Court Returns to Abortion

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt Begins Arguments

NorthWest Wing | Charlotte Bleemer | March 2, 2016

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If you were anywhere near the Capitol this morning, you may have noticed a sea of purple engulfing the Supreme Court, chanting, “Abortion is a human right, if clinics close than we will fight!”

Today, March 2nd, 2016, the Court will hear arguments for Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the biggest abortion case to come around since 1992.

To understand how we got here, we have to first go back to 2013 when the Texas house legislature proposed new restrictions on abortion, entitled House Bill 2. Two of these restrictions have been brought to the Court today:

1) “Admitting privileges” through a hospital less than 30 miles away from the clinic are required before an abortion.

2) Clinics offering abortions must meet the building specifications standard of Texas hospitals.

As a result of HB2, abortion clinics in Texas with hallways too narrow for hospital gurneys are shutting down. Women who are uninsured and cannot get “admitting privileges” are forced away.

The lawmakers who proposed these extreme restrictions say that HB2 will “raise the standard of care for all abortion patients” and “will improve the health and safety of women.” But evidence shows the contrary.

Credit: Charlotte Bleemer
Credit: Charlotte Bleemer

Before this law was passed, there were more than 40 abortion clinics across Texas. As of October 2015, only 19 clinics remain to care for Texas’s 5.4 million women of reproductive age. On the 500 mile stretch between San Antonio and New Mexico, not a single abortion clinic can be found.

“The reality is, these laws hope to make abortions more difficult for women to obtain.”

The reality is that these laws hope to make abortions more difficult for women to obtain. Women’s health is harmed in the process, by forcing women (particularly women of color, immigrants, and those of lower socioeconomic classes who cannot afford to travel such distances) to carry out unwanted pregnancies. Texas Governor Rick Perry has even said, “An ideal world is one without abortion. Until then, we will continue to pass laws to ensure that they are rare as possible.”

The last major Supreme Court abortion case was Planned Parenthood v Casey in 1992, which confirmed the Roe v Wade decision that abortion is among one of the “choices central to personal dignity…protected by the 14th Amendment.” However, it also said that state restrictions on abortions are constitutional, so long as they do not impose a “substantial obstacle” on women seeking care. The crowd of protesters at the Court this morning think that shutting down more than half of abortion clinics in the nation’s second most populous state is indeed a “substantial obstacle.”

Signs displaying messages of “HB2 is a trap” and “Abortion on demand and without apology” mixed with chants of “Women’s health is medical, not political!” and the very hashtag-able “Stop the sham!”

Credit: Charlotte Bleemer
Credit: Charlotte Bleemer

An AU protester and intern at NARAL Pro-Choice America, Gabi Ross, said, “It’s really scary that what we thought was settled 43 years ago actually has such a long struggle ahead. Our country could not be more divided right now, so winning this case is so important to finally say enough is enough and stop the attacks.”

“Beyond Texas, Mississippi is home to only one abortion clinic.”

If Whole Woman’s Health is unsuccessful, states will continue pushing to limit abortion access. Beyond Texas, Mississippi is home to only one abortion clinic. In my home state of Pennsylvania, women wait 24 hours and receive mandatory counseling before obtaining an abortion. We’re on a rocky road here, guys.

Another AU protester Lauren Beeslee is optimistic that the battle over abortion in the US will someday be won: “It can end, and should end, in the context of partisan attacks on healthcare, and trying to take away abortion rights altogether, I think that is possible.” In the meantime, she encourages students to get involved with the issue. “I think that supporting online campaigns is a really easy way to show your support.”

Remember Wendy Davis’s marathon 11.5 hour filibuster in June 2013? This was what she was fighting against. The battle for reproductive justice is far from won – join us and #stopthesham.