Justice Breyer wrote the Opinion of the Court, striking down the limitations on access to an abortion passed by the Texas Legislature. While some key procedural issues were raised, including claim preclusion and third-party standing, the main discussion was on the application of the undue burden standard in the abortion context.
The undue burden standard was articulated in 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The standard is there is an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion if the “purpose or effect of the provision is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.” In other words, it is acceptable for there to be a limitation on the ability to obtain an abortion. However, there cannot be a limitation such that an abortion cannot be accessed at all.
The Supreme Court reinstated the District Court’s interpretation of the facts and decision holding the provisions of the Texas Law violated the Constitution by placing an undue burden on a woman’s right to have an abortion.
There were several individual sentences with significant impact on the decision and future rulings. In relation to the regulation requiring an abortion provider have admitting privileges at a local hospital, the Court said: “Thus, there was no significant health-related problem that the new law helped to cure.” This statement gives significant guidance to other Courts, because when the look at the facts, if there is a situation in which no additional protection to the mother is provided by the law it can be viewed with suspicion if no benefit is provided.
One of the other important sentences is the line : “Healthcare facilities and medical professionals are not fungible commodities.” While, legally speaking, this does not have the same effect as some others, it demonstrates that the majority understands the situation. Abortion is not an easy choice. With support and understanding, the procedure can either be avoided or done in such a way as to minimize the impacts. The effect of the struck down laws, was to make it more difficult in too many ways.
This case will impact review of other abortion laws in place around the country. It perhaps opens the door to litigation questioning other regulations purportedly designed for health and safety reasons. It is unlikely that all, or perhaps even most, of the laws will be found to be unconstitutional. However, this case may result in the removal of laws which are punitive and do not give actual benefits to those effected.