How the Supreme Court Ruling Will Impact Abortion Laws in the US

Texas law constitutes an “undue burden” on women, the majority ruled.

ByABC News
June 27, 2016, 8:01 PM

— -- The Supreme Court on Monday struck down the Texas law that imposed strict new requirements on abortion clinics in the state.

The 5-3 decision in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will likely have sweeping implications for abortion regulations throughout the United States.

What Happened

In a major win for abortion rights advocates, the court ruled that the state’s regulations imposed an “undue burden” on women’s right to seek an abortion.

“We agree with the District Court that the surgical center 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 their constitutional right to do so,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer for the majority.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy also joined the majority opinion knocking down the Texas law.

In 2013, Texas passed HB2, which contains the two provisions: one, a requirement that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital; and two, a requirement that abortion facilities comply with the requirements for ambulatory surgical centers.

The plaintiffs in the case argued that there’s no evidence that the law promotes women’s health and that it is really about impeding women’s access to abortion.

Today, the majority of the Supreme Court agreed.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, arguing that the court's abortion jurisprudence is fundamentally misguided.

He wrote that the court today "radically rewrites the undue burden test ... and applies [that test] in a way that will surely mystify lower courts for years to come."

Justice Samuel Alito wrote a separate dissent, which Justice Thomas and Chief Justice Roberts joined, on technical and procedural grounds.

What It Means

Abortion advocates were overjoyed at the court’s decision.

“I came here to show support for what's actually right, women's rights, women's privacy and women's right to their bodies. I have no words. I sobbed when I heard that we won," said Ashley Plinkhorn from Austin, Texas, outside the court after the decision was announced.

Amy Hagstrom-Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and lead plaintiff in the case, said that “justice was served.”

In terms of on-the-ground impact, all of Texas' 19 clinics will remain open. Some of the clinics that closed when the law partially went into effect may ultimately reopen, though advocates stress that this will take time.

"Today's decision is a real game changer in what have been years and years of attacks on women's health and rights and we are going to turn things around and fight to get rid of these laws in all the states," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), in an interview with ABC News.

Clinics in Mississippi and Louisiana will also remain open while the litigation in those states continues, according to CRR, which brought the case to the Supreme Court.

Proponents of the Texas law said that the regulations were put in place to protect women’s health and safety.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said that today’s decision “erodes States’ lawmaking authority to safeguard the health and safety of women.”

“Texas' goal is to protect innocent life, while ensuring the highest health and safety standards for women,” he said in a statement.

Where Things Go From Here

Justice Breyer made it clear in the court’s opinion that abortion regulations that are not justified by medical necessity are going to get a very close look in the lower courts. This ruling will have an impact well beyond this one case.

Some challenges to similar laws in other states are already ongoing; others will likely be brought in court very soon, as advocates vowed to keep “fighting until access is restored for all women in the U.S.”

Attorney General Loretta Lynch also said that the Justice Department, which filed a brief in support of the clinics, “will continue fighting against laws like this one.”

"When we filed a brief in this case, the Department of Justice made clear that we believe laws like the one at issue here unfairly restrict women's rights, negatively impact women's health, and undermine the state's interest in protecting the safety and welfare of its people,” she said in a statement.

ABC News Supreme Court Contributor Kate Shaw contributed to this story.