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Historic Victory for Reproductive Rights at the Supreme Court

Historic Victory for Reproductive Rights at the Supreme Court

On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case concerning access to abortion. With a 5-3 decision authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, the Court ruled that requirements in a Texas law place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion and constitute an undue burden on abortion access, violating the constitution. Whole Woman’s Health, which was arguably the most important abortion case on the Court’s docket in over two decades, provided a big victory for the reproductive rights movement.  Click here to read the full opinion.

Under Texas’ now unconstitutional Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider (TRAP) law HB2, numerous restrictions were imposed on the state’s clinics and abortion providers, causing a large number of them to close. The two most notable restrictions required that doctors who provide abortion services must obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals no farther than 30 miles away from the clinic, and every health care facility offering abortion care must meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. Both of these measures are medically unnecessary to provide safe abortion procedures to women.  It is generally accepted that these requirements were enacted only to cause reputable health care providers to go out of practice due to the high cost and unfeasibility of meeting these standards.

Both the hospital admittance privileges and the ambulatory surgical centers restrictions were challenged under Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1992 landmark case that set the standard for state regulations of abortion.  The ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey stated that these regulations must not place an “undue burden” on a woman’s access. In his opinion striking down the measures in Whole Woman’s Health, Justice Breyer noted that “neither of these provisions confers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes.”

Following this historic decision, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, released a statement underscoring that, “All women must be able to obtain safe, legal and affordable abortion as a core element of reproductive rights and women’s equality. We are pleased that today’s Supreme Court decision brings us closer to that reality.” The Reform Movement for years has strongly supported a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions. To this end, URJ and CCAR joined the Religious Institute’s amicus brief on the side of Whole Woman’s Health, focusing on the many faith traditions that support the moral right of each woman to make her own decisions about her pregnancy in accordance with her faith and conscience. WRJ joined a brief with the National Women’s Law Center, also on the side of Whole Woman’s Health, which argued that abortion restrictions such as HB2 deny equal dignity guaranteed to women under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Court’s decision impacts much more than reproductive rights in Texas, as TRAP laws similar to HB2 exist in many states. Whole Woman’s Health is a huge step forward in decreasing the number of burdensome restrictions on abortion care across the United States and ensuring that women everywhere have access to safe, legal and affordable healthcare no matter their age, race or residence.

Click here to learn more about Whole Woman’s Health and its March 2016 oral argument. You can also watch the recording of the webinar that we hosted in partnership with Women of Reform Judaism on reproductive rights at the Supreme Court earlier this spring. Visit the RAC’s issue pages to learn more about reproductive rights and the Supreme Court

Tracy Wolf was a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC), and currently serves as the RAC's Leadership Development Associate. Originally from Syosset, N.Y., she is a member of North Shore Synagogue and a graduate of Dickinson College.

Tracy Wolf

Published: 6/29/2016