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Supreme Court hears arguments on Texas abortion law

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday heard argument [transcript, PDF] on a Texas law [HB 2] that would require abortion clinics to upgrade facilities to hospital-like standards and would require doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. In Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt [docket], the court is specifically asked to decide if this law is an "undue burden" under the Casey v. Planned Parenthood [text] standard, balancing the state's interest in promoting health with the practical outcomes of the regulation. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] ruled [text] last year that Texas could, with very limited exception, apply the law throughout the state. Throughout his argument, Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller [official website] faced ardent questioning by the three female justices, along with Justice Stephen Breyer, giving the impression that the eight-justice bench may currently be split 4-3 against the bill, with Justice Anthony Kennedy seemingly undecided. Supporters of the law argue that it serves to protect women's health, while opponents see it as a veiled attempt at limiting access to abortion. Those opponents note that prior to the law, there were around 40 abortion clinics in Texas. Following the implementation of several other provisions of the omnibus bill, that number dropped to 20. Some, such as plaintiff's attorney Stephanie Toti [official website], assert that number will drop to 10 if these new provisions go into effect.

Abortion procedures and reproductive rights issues have been heated topics throughout the US. Late last month Louisiana abortion clinics and doctors filed a new application [JURIST report] with the Supreme Court attempting to block a 2014 state law that would require three of the four remaining abortion clinics in the state to close. The law, which went into effect earlier in the month, is identical to the Texas law currently at issue. Earlier in February the Indiana Senate released a bill [JURIST report] from committee that would ban abortions based on genetic disabilities and would also require aborted or miscarried fetuses to be cremated or interred. Also last month the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed [JURIST report] a lower court decision upholding a law that restricts use of medication abortion drugs. Just prior, Ohio's governor signed [JURIST report] a bill that would purportedly cut state-funds to Planned Parenthood by $1.3 million.

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