AUSTIN — This summer’s Supreme Court ruling on abortion could put a wrench in Texas’ plans to further restrict the procedure in the spring, experts say.
Whether legislators will err on the side of caution is a different question.
“States like Texas are going to try to continue to push the envelope,” said Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “I don’t think legislatures are going to be dissuaded from passing abortion decisions based on existing decisions.”
In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court ruled that two provisions of Texas’ law were unconstitutional — one that would have required abortion clinics to have admitting privileges into hospitals, and another that would have made clinics adhere to standards of ambulatory surgical centers.
The court ruled that the restrictions would place an undue burden on women and that the state didn’t provide enough evidence that the law would benefit women’s health.
Abigail Aiken, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said that if Texas lawmakers wanted to venture back into similar laws, they’d be walking into a “legal minefield.”
“It’s pretty clear in the Whole Woman’s Health decision that laws that are masquerading as protecting women’s health are not going to fly anymore,” Aiken said. “I think that’s kind of closed the door on that for now.”
Arguments that women’s health would benefit from abortion restrictions are going to be more susceptible to legal challenges in the future, said Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, the group that sued the state in the Supreme Court case.
“The relationship between the restrictions that Texas wanted to enforce and the actual impact on improving women’s health was zero,” Allen said. “The court is really going to closely scrutinize those types of arguments moving forward.”
But the Supreme Court didn’t consider one provision of Texas’ 2013 law — one that prohibits abortion in Texas after 20 weeks of pregnancy. John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, said abortion bills that use the basis of “fetal life” as an argument are more likely to be implemented.
“There is still a legitimate state interest in protecting fetal life,” Seago said. “Our opponents don’t want to talk about that.”
But so far, lawmakers haven’t filed many bills that argue in support of protecting fetal life.
One of the bills filed for the spring would require aborted or miscarried fetal tissue to be buried or cremated. The Center for Reproductive Rights has sued the state on the measure, and a judge will hear the case in early January.
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