March 2 is a very big day for our nation.
The first major event is a large rally outside the Supreme Court on the first day of oral arguments regarding Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, colloquially referred to as the “Texas abortion clinic regulations case.” Texas passed state legislation requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of surgical outpatient clinics, including ambulance access, and also required abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges to allow follow up with women experiencing complications. These laws have helped ensure that abortions are truly safe in Texas.
If the court rules 4-4, with Scalia now missing, then the ruling of the lower court — which ruled in favor of the legality of the clinic regulations — will stand. However, there is a possibility that the court will rule 5-3, which would strike down the clinic regulations and, potentially, severely limit the state’s rights to regulate the abortion industry. As the first serious abortion case that the Supreme Court has heard since 1992, the stakes are high.
Many of the arguments will ask questions about intentions behind a law. According to legal precedent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1992 case, abortion regulations were proclaimed legal only under certain conditions that depend on the type of regulation, the extent of that regulation, and the true purpose of that regulation.
Casey addressed other types of regulations, too. As PBS reported, “The Court proclaimed that any regulation that imposes a ‘substantial obstacle’ preventing a woman from obtaining a legal abortion is an ‘undue burden’ that violates the woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.” In other words, regulations about abortion clinics and procedures would be allowed if the intention was truly to ensure health and safety, not to limit access to legal abortion, which had already been ruled a constitutional right. Many abortion clinics have shut down as a result of the Texas regulations — and there will be questions of whether that and that alone was the true driving force between passing the law in the first place, or whether it was only a side effect of the law. However, many of the abortion clinics shut down for other reasons, and there is nothing preventing an abortion clinic that meets the reasonable health standards from legally functioning in Texas.
It will be hard for the court to develop a true metric of measuring the intention behind a law. If the justices are to maintain the precedent of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and if the court determines that the true intention of this law is shutting down abortion clinics and limiting access to abortion, then the clinic regulations will be ruled unconstitutional. But if the court sees the law as centered on women’s health — making abortion not just legal, but also safe — then the court will let the regulations stand.
The second big event happening is the first hearing of the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives. This was the panel formed in the wake of this summer’s Planned Parenthood video scandal exposing the apparent trafficking of fetal tissue after abortion. This hearing with focus on ethical questions, and a witness list is posted here. The panel is headed by Chairman Marsha Blackburn, who commented:
“We will hear from professors who teach ethics, from medical practitioners, from those who do biomedical research, from those within America’s faith traditions — so that we as legislators might become informed about the ethical implications and issues for the women who terminate a pregnancy, for the researcher, for the person who needs a cure, and for the baby. I look forward to a productive, thought-provoking discussion for all the Select Panel Member.”
Both of these events are important, and many will be interested in their outcomes. However, they are not to be confused with one another, and neither case is about making abortion illegal. The Supreme Court case is about women’s safety in obtaining an abortion. The panel hearing is a different event specifically regarding the ethical questions surrounding fetal tissue donation and research. Again, neither case is about abortion itself, only on the related, yet distinct, issues of clinic conditions and fetal tissue use.
Concerned Women for America’s intention is always to protect both women and babies. We will have representatives at both events and will work to keep you updated on both situations.