Supreme Court allows restriction on Texas abortion laws, but stays others

The Supreme Court decided late Friday to leave in place a decision that Texas’ restrictive abortion laws were unconstitutional, but left in place a lower court’s order staying some of those laws in hopes of reaching a broader decision.

“The Court allows the ruling of the Fifth Circuit in abortion cases Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt and Dawn Hochsprung v. Tiller to stand,” a plurality opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito wrote on Friday. “We have held that the term ‘Planned Parenthood’ has been so defined and used by the Texas law to mean any abortion provider in the state. We hold that ‘any’ provider includes private physicians who perform abortions for money.”

The decision continues an exhaustive legal battle that has been in federal court in Texas for over a decade.

A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans issued a ruling in June that struck down some of the restrictive provisions of a 2013 law that the state says is designed to protect women’s health. The ruling also allowed the Texas law to take effect, and it did not say how the higher court should act on it.

A majority of lower courts have ruled against the law. The Fifth Circuit panel ruling found that the Texas restrictions are “abortion-inducing” because they outlaw most abortions after 20 weeks, an established limit in the medical community.

The main part of the law, which requires that doctors performing abortions obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, has yet to take effect. The lower court agreed to stay the challenge from the state for 90 days in hopes that it would reach the Supreme Court and decide the case.

In a dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said that the majority had “unduly” weakened the basic goal behind the law. Breyer said he did not think the emergency stay would be effective because “current counsel for clinics will likely quickly urge the Supreme Court to impose on the fifth circuit a sort of ‘three-way split.’”

Breyer was joined in the dissent by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case.

The Texas law would force about a dozen clinics in the state to shut down.

The laws remain in effect pending the outcome of the appellate court’s challenge to the other parts of the law, which remains without a trial date.

Lawyers for the state on Friday had urged the court to reverse the appeals court’s ruling.

One plaintiff in the case has vowed to continue to fight the challenges to its right to perform abortions.

Planned Parenthood said Friday it “firmly” disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision.

“Texas is one of only 10 states to have passed laws effectively banning abortion in the third trimester, banning abortion after 20 weeks, requiring all abortion clinics to meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers, and requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles,” Planned Parenthood’s national public policy director Kellie Copeland said in a statement. “The recent rule change in Texas (to force abortion clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center standards) has made abortion as safe or safer than almost any other medical procedure in Texas and among the safest in the world.”

While acknowledging the Supreme Court’s ruling will make it harder for Texas women to get an abortion, Copeland said the high court’s decision would not affect where women can go to get them.

“The courts need to stop interfering and issuing arbitrary rulings and put an end to the undue burdens that these regulations put on women,” Copeland said.

The case is Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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