In a 5-to-3 decision, the justices struck down a law that set strict regulations governing how abortion clinics operate. The Texas law, enacted in 2013, mainly required clinics providing abortion services to beef up their facilities to match walk-in surgical centers and mandated physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.
Hundreds of activists on both sides of the debate gathered outside the Supreme Court in anticipation of the ruling. Today is the last day that the court will issue decisions for this term, which began in October.
Texas has defended the restrictions, and the number of clinics providing abortion services in the state has dropped since the law was enacted. The Supreme Court said Texas put an undue burden on a woman's legal right to get an abortion.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, criticized the ruling.
"The decision erodes states' lawmaking authority to safeguard the health and safety of women and subjects more innocent life to being lost," he said in a statement. "Texas' goal is to protect innocent life while ensuring the highest health and safety standards for women."
President Obama hailed the ruling, saying in a statement he is "pleased to see the Supreme Court protect women's rights and health today."
The court is evenly divided, with four conservative justices and four liberals, after conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died in February. The majority opinion for the court, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, held that the regulations are medically unnecessary and unconstitutionally limit a woman's right to an abortion.
"We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes," Breyer wrote of the “admitting-privileges requirement" and the “surgical center requirement. "Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a pre-viability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution."
Breyer was joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.
In a concurring opinion, Ginsburg wrote, “Given those realities, it is beyond rational belief that [the Texas law] could genuinely protect the health of women and certain that the law "would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions."
In his dissent, Thomas argued that the court shouldn't have decided the case at all for technical and procedural reasons. But he also argues that the court's abortion jurisprudence is fundamentally misguided, and the court today "radically rewrites the undue burden test" by "requiring courts to consider the burdens a law imposes on abortion access together with the benefits those laws confer."
The last time the high court decided a major abortion case was nine years ago when they ruled to uphold a law banning late-term abortion procedures.
"Today women lost," Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America, said outside the court after the ruling. "Today the Supreme Court put politics over the health and safety of women in our country."