The United States Supreme Court is poised to render a decision next year that will be its most significant ruling on the abortion issue in more than twenty years. The High Court has agreed to hear a challenge to a Texas law that establishes health and safety regulations for abortion clinics.
The Texas Legislature enacted the abortion regulation statute in 2013. It required that all abortion clinics in the state meet the same medical operating standards as other outpatient surgery centers. It also required that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic.
The Texas law gained national attention when a pro-abortion state senator named Wendy Davis engaged in a much-publicized filibuster in a failed attempt to block the law. The ultraliberal media showcased Davis as a “courageous” advocate for women’s rights, despite the fact that she was opposing a law to protect women from the malpractice of shoddy abortionists.
While the media has often reported that the Texas law is the strictest in the nation, it is actually similar to statutes that have been on the books in the state of Missouri dating back nearly 30 years. The central purpose of these laws is to ensure that facilities providing surgical abortions are adequately equipped to deal with medical emergencies in the same fashion as other ambulatory surgical centers.
The most significant provision of the Texas law, like those in Missouri, mandates that abortionists have admitting privileges at a local hospital. This helps guarantee that an abortionist can continue to provide proper obstetric care to a woman who has suffered “complications” from her abortion when she is transferred to an acute care setting. Very few hospital emergency rooms are staffed with specialists in obstetrics.
The passage of the new surgicenter health and safety law in Texas resulted in the closure of a majority of the abortion clinics in that state. The reason for that is simple. Numerous abortion facilities in Texas and throughout the nation are “served” by out-of-town abortionists who fly or drive into town to perform abortions in assembly-line fashion during concentrated periods of time. They then quickly leave town to their next killing field in another community.
These drive-by, fly-by abortionists have absolutely no physician-patient relationship with the women whose children they are aborting, and are unavailable to provide any kind of followup care to women after the procedure. Women who experience botched abortions are dumped by abortion clinic managers at the nearest emergency room with no physician of record to provide information about their “surgical outcomes.”
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the key provisions of the law in June, stating that the regulations served the legitimate purpose of “protecting the health and welfare of women seeking abortions.” Within weeks, the Supreme Court issued a stay of the ruling until they could decide whether to hear the case themselves.
The High Court has now decided to do just that. Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the four liberal justices on the Supreme Court in agreeing to take up the case. The other four more conservative justices on the Court voted to allow the law to stand.
The last time the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision on abortion was in 1992 in a Pennsylvania case known as Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In that decision, the High Court reaffirmed the central holding of Roe v. Wade that a woman has a “liberty interest” to obtain an abortion without interference from the state prior to viability.
The Court upheld Pennsylvania regulations providing for informed consent by a woman seeking an abortion. The justices established this legal principle: State regulations providing for the health, safety, and informed decision-making of the pregnant woman are constitutional so long as they do not create an “undue burden” on the woman’s choice, or erect “absolute obstacles” to her access to abortion. The modern-day Court will now decide whether the Texas law satisfies that legal standard, or whether to establish new standards governing abortion clinic regulation.
The ultimate decision by the Supreme Court on the Texas case will have major impact on Missouri. In 1986 the Missouri Legislature adopted legislation sponsored by yours truly that required abortion facilities that are operated “primarily for the purpose of performing surgical procedures” to be licensed and regulated as ambulatory surgical centers.
A leading provision of the law was that surgical procedures could only be performed by physicians who “are privileged to perform surgical procedures in at least one licensed hospital in the community,” or that the abortion clinic have a working agreement with a licensed hospital in the community “guaranteeing the transfer and admittance of patients whenever necessary.”
The genesis of the new state law was a similar ordinance adopted by the City of St. Peters in 1984 also pushed by yours truly. The ordinance was adopted in response to the planned opening of an abortion clinic in that community in St. Charles County. The owner of the proposed abortion clinic had no hospital medical credentials in the St. Louis metropolitan area. In fact, the only staffing privileges the abortionist had were at a hospital in Peru. A legal challenge to the ordinance was dismissed, and no abortions were ever performed at the St. Peters clinic.
Missouri’s statewide law was amended in 2007 to include any abortion clinic which performs five or more first trimester abortions per month. Another change to state law in 2005 specified that the clinical privileges of abortionists must be at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility. The result of these changes was the closure of the abortion clinic in Springfield. The number of abortions performed in Missouri has continued to decline in recent years, and there is little question that these laws are one of the major reasons.
The issue of hospital staffing privileges is now center stage in Missouri again due to the running controversy surrounding the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Columbia. The clinic recently resumed providing medication abortions with the help of University Hospital, which extended clinical privileges to the “visiting” abortionist there. Without those privileges, the Columbia clinic would be out of the abortion business, as it has for extended periods in the past.
We will keep you posted on those developments, as well as the outcome of the Texas case now before the Supreme Court, known as Whole Women’s Health v. Cole.