What to Know About the Abortion Case in Front of the Supreme Court

Why does this case matter? How might the outcome impact you?

1) Let’s start with the basics. Who is arguing what in the case of Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt? And what do they want?

The plaintiffs in the case are clinics and doctors that provide abortion services, among other things; Whole Woman’s Health is one of those clinics. They have challenged the Texas laws, arguing that there’s no evidence that the laws promote health and that they’re really about impeding women’s access to abortion. If the laws go into effect, they claim, the number of clinics in Texas will drop to 10 or fewer (the laws are largely on hold at the moment, while the Supreme Court considers the case).

Dr. John Hellerstedt, the Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services -- the agency that enforces the challenged laws -- argues in response that Texas is just trying to ensure patient safety and improve standards of care. He also argues that it’s the job of legislatures, not courts, to decide whether laws like these are medically necessary.

2) Okay, got it. How did the case make it to the Supreme Court?

The plaintiffs challenged these laws, and they won in the trial court. The court of appeals reversed, and the Supreme Court took the case and reinstated the trial court order blocking the laws from going into effect while it considers the case.

3) What are the possible outcomes? And how might each impact folks across the country?

There are at least three possible outcomes (and they mostly turn on Justice Kennedy, who holds the key vote in this case). First, if Justice Kennedy thinks the regulations have gone too far, they’ll likely be struck down 5-3, which will make it harder for states to pass abortion regulations that seriously interfere with women’s ability to obtain abortions. If Justice Kennedy concludes that the Texas laws are permissible, the court will likely divide 4-4, affirming the lower court opinion and leaving the regulations in effect, but making no law for the rest of the country. And there is a third possibility -- that the chief justice could hold the case over for re-argument some time next term, when the court may have a ninth justice in place.

Justice Scalia was almost certain to side with Texas in this case, which means that the best Texas can now hope for is a 4-4 tie.

5) When are we going to know the outcome? Any time frame?

We’ll have an answer of some sort by the end of the term, which is typically the last week in June.