Supreme Court Gives Abortion Rights Activists Time To Fight Texas Law
In 1972, Norma McCorvey aka “Jane Roe” filed a lawsuit claiming that a Texas law which banned all abortions except in cases where the mother’s life was at stake was unconstitutional. Justice Harry Blackmun, chosen because he had prior experience as counsel to the Mayo Clinic, wrote that the First, Fourth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments create a “zone of privacy” and that previous cases protect a right against state intrusion in cases dealing with marriage, contraception and child raising. The Court’s decision overturned restrictions in most states and made bans on first trimester abortions illegal across the United States. In the Four Decades since the landmark case, a broad majority of Americans have supported upholding Roe v. Wade while around 1/3 have consistently favored overturning the Court’s ruling. The original decision was regarding a Texas law, and in that state the policy fight continues.
On June 29th, a 5-4 majority (guess which five and which four) on the Supreme Court voted to stay the implementation of a Texas law passed in 2013 which requires abortion providers to meet the same requirements as ambulatory surgical centers and to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Pro choice groups argue that this law, which was scheduled to go into effect on Wednesday, is nothing more than an attempt to close abortion clinics under the guise of protecting patient health and would close all but nine clinics in a state with 27 million people. The stay of this law only means that the pro-choice groups will have time to make their case that the Texas statute is an unconstitutional restriction and is therefore far from a final victory.
It is no coincidence that this vote by the Supreme Court was a narrow 5-4 one, or that the same five justices who voted for marriage equality on Friday voted to give defenders of abortion rights more time to challenge the Texas law before its implementation in this case. The same “equal protection of the laws” clause in the 14th amendment to the Constitution that the Court found protected marriage equality was also invoked to defend a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices in the Roe v. Wade decision. This connection is not lost on religious conservatives, some of whom are calling the marriage equality decision “the new Roe v. Wade” and vowing to spend the coming years fighting and obstructing marriage equality as vehemently as they have fought against reproductive freedom.
Those on the political right with a persecution complex are going to claim that these recent Supreme Court decisions indicate that the country has shifted far to the left and that their traditional values are under attack. Considering that the Court just ruled against EPA air pollution regulations and that use of a controversial drug called midazolam used in lethal injection does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court is very far from voting the progressive way on every issue. Furthermore, cases that were decided by 7-2 majorities in the 1970’s are now only upheld by razor-thin 5-4 margins in 2015. If the majority of Americans who support abortion rights and marriage equality and want to protect the environment and get billionaire money out of politics want their views represented in Congress, the White House and the highest Court in the land want their views represented then they had better register to vote, get informed and get involved before the opponents of progress can undue what decades of struggle have won.