The U.S. Supreme Court declined Tuesday evening to block Texas’ anti-abortion law, HB 2, in a 5-4 ruling along ideological lines. The ruling on an emergency appeal to lift onerous doctor restrictions that effectively forced clinics to shut down will remain in effect while the appeal works its way through the courts.
The five-justice majority did not rule on the constitutionality of the law, but held that the restrictive Texas abortion provision should be allowed to go into effect, even though a federal trial judge had already held the admitting privileges restriction unconstitutional. Requiring abortion doctors to get admitting privileges essentially means they need to secure special permission from a local hospital, but many hospitals are refusing to work with abortion providers.
The four dissenting justices led by Justice Stephen Breyer explain the effective consequence of this ruling:
As a practical matter, the Fifth Circuit’s decision to stay the injunction meant that abortion clinics in Texas whose physicians do not have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic were forced to cease offering abortions. And it means that women who were planning to receive abortions at those clinics were forced to go elsewhere—in some cases 100 miles or more—to obtain a safe abortion, or else not to obtain one at all.
The fight over the law has seen several short-term victories that were soon blunted by defeats. State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-TX) successfully blocked the bill from coming to a vote with a dramatic 11-hour filibuster. But HB 2 ultimately ended up passing anyway. Health groups won in court when a federal judge held the admitting privileges restriction unconstitutional. But an appeals court panel agreed four days later to block that ruling while the state appeals. Even as the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that decision Tuesday, activists are raising funds to cover the transportation and lodging for those who must travel long distances for safe, legal access to abortion.
In their ruling, Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito concede that “reasonable minds can disagree” about whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit should have stayed the trial judge’s ruling in this case. But, they conclude, plaintiffs “have not carried their heavy burden of showing that doing so was a clear violation of accepted legal standards.” This is the first time, but likely not the last, the justices will take up this provision and others in the Texas law.