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Supreme Court To Hear Abortion Case That Could Erode Roe v. Wade

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 13/11/2015 Cristian Farias

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could further narrow a woman's right to obtain an abortion.

The dispute, which the justices added to their docket on Friday, is the first abortion challenge the court hears since 2007. At stake is a precedent set in 1992 -- the last time the court reaffirmed the landmark Roe v. Wade. 

The case arises from a lawsuit filed in Texas seeking to block a law that, if fully implemented, would shut down at least 10 of the 19 remaining abortion clinics in the state. 

Among other provisions, the law -- called HB2 -- requires doctors at all abortion clinics to possess admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and for the clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers -- a building and equipment requirement that advocates say would force them to resemble "mini-hospitals."

Texas has defended the law as necessary to protect women's health -- a state interest the Supreme Court has recognized as valid when weighing abortion regulations. But abortion rights advocates say the law and other similar efforts in conservative states have nothing to do with protecting women's health and instead aim to restrict their access to lawful abortions.

To bolster their point about HB2's true aim, advocates often indicate a statement former Texas Gov. Rick Perry made at an anti-abortion rally held in 2012, when he said that "an ideal world is one without abortion."

"Until then, we will continue to pass laws to ensure that they are rare as possible," Perry said, in an apparent nod to what would become HB2.

But eventually the law landed in court, where a federal judge struck it down in 2014. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel called it a "brutally effective system of abortion regulation" and noted that its intent was "to reduce the number of providers licensed to perform abortions, thus creating a substantial obstacle for a woman seeking to access an abortion."

Yeakel's decision was overturned in June by the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. The Supreme Court intervened 20 days later, provisionally blocking the law from going into effect

That procedural reprieve has given opponents of the law an opportunity to file a formal appeal, in hopes that the justices will review the case and determine whether the Texas law violates prior court precedents governing the right to an abortion.

In addition to reevaluating Roe v. Wade, the court will be confronted with another pivotal case, 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which by a narrow margin upheld Roe and clarified the constitutional standard to which abortion regulations are subjected. 

In formulating what is now known as the "undue burden" standard, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that a woman's right to an abortion involves "the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the 14th Amendment." 

In the two cases the Supreme Court agreed to hear Friday, Kennedy again is poised to be a key player, and there's already a sense of how he might come down. When the court provisionally blocked the Texas law from taking effect in June, Kennedy broke from the conservative wing to provide the necessary fifth vote.

Oral arguments in the cases will be held next spring, with a decision expected towards the end of June.

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