Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Texas Abortion Law Challenged

A Texas law that has severely restricted access to legal abortions is being argued in the Supreme Court today. Two provisions of the law are at issue; the first requires that any physician performing an abortion must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic, and the second requires that an abortion clinic have the same facilities, equipment, and staff of ambulatory surgical centers, which are much more expensive to set up and run. At issue is whether the law improves patient safety, or whether the law is just another attempt to put as many roadblocks in front of abortions as possible.

Defenders of the law claim that the law provides better access to emergency care should it be needed, while setting appropriately high standards for the qualifications of the doctors performing abortions and the safety of abortion clinics. Opponents of the law, including most medical groups, say that the new restrictions are simply not justified on the basis of any medical evidence. They argue that abortions are safer than some other procedures, such as colonoscopy and liposuction, which are not required by law to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers. They argue that the new law actually makes abortions less safe because women will be forced to seek riskier alternatives. Indeed, since the law was passed in 2013 more than half of the abortion clinics in Texas have a closed.

Who is right? And what do you think the Supreme Court will decide, if anything? With the recent death of Justice Scalia there are currently only 8 members on the court, so the court may be deadlocked on this one.

A decision is expected by June. One possibility is that the court will turn the case back for more information, effectively delaying the decision for another year. By that time there should be a newly-appointed Supreme Court Justice to replace Justice Scalia.

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