Paper Opinions: Why we should worry about “Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt”

Instead of working towards closing the wage gap, increasing the number of girls in STEM fields or improving women’s representation in politics, Texas is working towards a decision that strips women of their rights, their safety and brings our country farther back in history.

On March 2, the Supreme Court of the United States heard Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the most influential case regarding women’s health in 25 years.  The fate of this case is concerning, to say the least.

The Supreme Court heard testimony to decide whether to uphold HB2, a Texas law that has implemented admitting-privileges (the requirement that doctors must admit a certain number of patients to hospitals per year and OB-GYNs must perform a certain number of surgeries). HB2 also requires clinics to be remodeled to meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center, meaning most clinics would need to rebuild hallways and examination rooms.

These restrictions on doctors and clinics have created 20-30 day waiting times for appointments, sometimes making procedures impossible. Furthermore, constraints have created up to 300 miles of travel time and the possibility of multiple trips. These restrictions can be an enormous financial burden, making abortions wishful thinking for low income women in Texas. This fact is especially true considering that 42 percent of women having abortions have income levels below the federal poverty line, according to a 2010 Guttmacher Institute survey.

Therefore, while the regulations were supposedly made to “protect women’s health,” they actually are a detriment to abortion safety and clearly violate the “undue burden” test set in Casey v. Planned Parenthood.  

Justice Roberts stated that “the purpose [of] the law…doesn’t make a difference” when determining substantial or undue burden. Meanwhile, according to Oyez, the “purpose or effect” is actually crucial when defining “undue burden.”

Even more upsetting is that politicians have publicly admitted that HB2 was designed to make abortion more difficult, and yet some justices still justify the restrictions. For example, at an anti-abortion rally a few months ago, Texas governor Rick Perry said, “an ideal world is one without abortion. Until then, we will continue to pass laws to ensure that they are as rare as possible.”   

Overall, the Supreme Court’s decision could lead to more abortion restrictions, especially if the next president is anti-abortion. According to a recent Slate article, “Some legal pundits have hypothesized that a 4-4 split” (referring to the outcome of four justices voting in favor of the repeal and four Justices voting against the repeal) “would embolden anti-abortion legislators to push ever-harsher restrictions.”

Of course, you’re probably wondering how a court case 2000 miles away affects us. The idea behind HB2 is to decrease a woman’s ability to choose, and a similar sentiment is spreading throughout the country; Mississippi almost lost its last abortion clinic last spring and Louisiana might have to close four out of five of its abortion clinics.

The impact of this court case extends farther than even reproductive rights, though. I’ve heard people questioning the need for feminism, too many times in Westport to believe America has progressed as much as it should have. It may seem like men and women are equal in Westport, but we have to remember that cases like these are the reason we still need the fight for equality between genders.