The Texas abortion clinic health standards case could further heighten the Supreme Court as a major issue in the 2016 presidential race and the importance of who fills the vacancy, high court watchers says.
“A lot of pro-lifers already recognize the importance of this vacancy because the court determines so many aspects of American life, the court has grabbed so much power,” Carrie Severino, chief counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, told TheBlaze. “This vacancy brought that home. Executive orders can be overturned by the next president, an act of Congress can be overturned. A Supreme Court justice is there for life. It has a huge impact.”
A pro-life demonstrator holds up a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., Wednesday. Supreme Court justices clashed in their first abortion showdown in almost a decade as a pivotal justice suggested the court could stop short of a definitive ruling on a disputed Texas law regulating clinics. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
One day after the Super Tuesday presidential primaries, the Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in the case of Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, regarding a Texas law that requires abortion clinics in the state to maintain the same health, cleanliness and safety standards as outpatient surgical facilities, as well as requires clinic abortion doctors to be licensed at local hospitals. It’s the first abortion case in more than a decade, and it comes just over two weeks after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
“It is still too early to know what impact it will have on the presidential race,” Severino said. “With Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, there is little difference in the type of justice they would appoint. There’s also little difference between the type of justice Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio would appoint, or even Donald Trump would appoint. The real distinction will be decided in the general election.”
The outcome of the Texas case will affect similar laws in 12 other states that raise the health standards at abortion clinics.
“It is supremely ironic that the plaintiff in the case is a company calling itself Whole Women’s Health,” Severino said. “Challenging basic health and safety standards shows this is not about women’s health, but it is about the bottom line and maximizing profits. Texas passed the law because of the Gosnell scandal. Lower health standards is not in the interest of women’s health.”
Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, did not legally challenge the regulations. However, the organization’s president Cecile Richards expressed opposition to the Texas law in a statement — arguing that the regulations will mean fewer abortion clinics:
We’ve seen the stakes in Louisiana, where we are seeing women struggling to access safe, legal abortion. This is exactly what we saw in Texas, when the clinic shutdown law temporarily went into effect. Our health centers were inundated with calls from frightened patients hoping they could still access the care they needed at the few health centers that remained open. If these laws are upheld, the effects could reverberate to women in states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Mississippi. At the end of the day, this is just another example of politicians working overtime to do underhandedly what they can’t do outright — ban women from accessing safe and legal abortion. Let me be clear: hundreds of thousands of women will lose access to care if these laws take effect, and women will pay the price.
Roger Severino, a former Justice Department attorney and now with the Heritage Foundation, was in the courtroom for oral arguments. He explained that the court was ideologically divided as expected, and Justice Anthony Kennedy seemed to hold his cards close.
He said during a conference call Monday that the Kermit Gosnell “House of Horrors” case in Philadelphia did come up during the arguments, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg insisted that was an outlier case. Severino added that both Ginsburg and Justice Sonia Sotomayor acted insulted by the Texas regulations and characterized them as a means to block abortion access. Meanwhile, Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Beyer did not challenge the intent of the law as protecting women’s health.