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Supreme Court Finds Texas Law On Abortion Providers Unconstitutional


The Supreme Court, today, struck down a Texas law requiring health clinics that perform abortions to have surgical facilities and doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The 2-year-old law has been upheld by a federal appeals court. But today, five justices agreed to overrule that decision. Three justices dissented. NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg joins us from the Supreme Court Building on Capitol Hill. Nina, just to start, could you walk us through what changes the Texas law had made for clinics and doctors in practice?

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: There were two major provisions. One said that doctors, in order to perform abortions in clinics, had to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic. The second provision said that clinics had to meet the standards of an ambulatory service - surgical center. And these are very highly advanced construction standards - hallways that are 8 feet wide, an advanced HVAC system, large, large operating rooms, one-way traffic outside - all kinds of very detailed semi-hospital-like provisions that these clinics would have to meet.

And already, 20 of the 40 clinics in the state had closed because there was a window when this law applied. And they simply couldn't meet them. And the estimates are that if the law were to go into effect - if it had been upheld, it would have reduced the number of clinics down to seven or eight.

WERTHEIMER: Now, the court ruled that the Texas law could not stand because it violated earlier Supreme Court rulings about burdening the right to an abortion. Justice Breyer wrote the opinion. What'd he say?

TOTENBERG: He said that both of these provisions imposed an undue burden because they limited access to abortion clinics, imposed restrictions that had no real rationality when compared to other similar provisions for other procedures. He said that the ambulatory surgical center restrictions, for example - before enactment, that the clinics were required to meet hundreds and hundreds of regulations about how it was built and that it was sanitary and that it provided adequate care and that the district court, the trial court, found that these additions would not add further care.

And Justice Breyer noted that the risk of death from childbirth or colonoscopy was far higher than the risk from an abortion. Yet, those two procedures could be done at home, in the case of childbirth, or in a doctor's office, in the case of colonoscopy. Colonoscopy, he noted, is - mortality risk is 10 times higher. Texas allows these to take place, he said, as I indicated, at home or in a doctor's office. And he concluded that the surgical center's requirement, like the admitting privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions and constitutes an undue burden on a woman's constitutional right to do so.

WERTHEIMER: Nina, very quickly, the - other states have have passed similar laws to the laws in Texas. Will they go down, too?

TOTENBERG: Yes (laughter).

WERTHEIMER: So they - that was fast.

TOTENBERG: If they're the same, they're dead.

WERTHEIMER: Well, thank you very much for this, Nina. This is the final day of the Supreme Court session. And you can look for Nina to be on All Things Considered this afternoon with the rest of the decisions. NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg at the Supreme Court, thank you very much.

TOTENBERG: Thank you, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.
As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.

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