Supreme Court strikes down Texas abortion clinic regulations

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court has struck down Texas’ widely replicated regulation of abortion clinics in the court’s biggest abortion case in nearly a quarter century.

The justices voted 5-3 Monday in favor of Texas clinics that protested the regulations as a thinly veiled attempt to make it harder for women to get an abortion in the nation’s second-most populous state.

Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion for the court held that the regulations are medically unnecessary and unconstitutionally limit a woman’s right to an abortion.

Texas had argued that its 2013 law and subsequent regulations were needed to protect women’s health. The rules required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and forced clinics to meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery.

Abortion rights

The highest-profile case centers on abortion rights and whether Texas state lawmakers placed an undue burden on women seeking to terminate pregnancies by implementing new restrictions on abortion providers and facilities.

Petitioners in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt argue that state laws unfairly and drastically reduced the number of abortion providers able to operate in the state legally.

SCOTUS precedent states that the government cannot place an undue burden on women seeking abortions.

However, lower courts held that Texas was in compliance, including the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, if at least half of the eight remaining Supreme Court justices find that legislators in the Austin statehouse created constitutional restrictions, the 4-4 tie would uphold the Fifth Circuit decision, thereby maintaining the Texas laws and splitting abortion guidelines state by state.

Public corruption

The second marquee case applies to public corruption.

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was once a shooting star in Republican circles, before he was

Bob McDonnell thanks family, lawyers, supporters and God following Supreme Court hearing,. (Photo: Chance Seales)
Bob McDonnell thanks family, lawyers, supporters and God following Supreme Court hearing,. (Photo: Chance Seales)

convicted of accepting more than $177,000 in bribes by a benefactor who he later paid back in political favors.

A lower federal appellate court found that McDonnell’s conviction was appropriate, sentencing him to two years in prison.

But during McDonnell’s final appeal in April, the majority of SCOTUS justices seemed to indicate that they sided with the disgraced governor, suggesting prosecutors overstepped the legal definition of bribery.

McDonnell contends that he legally accepted gifts from a personal friend, but did nothing more as a public official than impartially set up meetings for the same man.

A favorable opinion from justices could significantly tweak what qualifies as corruption in the public sphere.

Other elected officials facing corruption allegations, like U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), will certainly watch the outcome closely.

Recess nears

Last Thursday, the court upheld the University of Texas’ race-conscious affirmative action admissions policy and deadlocked on President Barrack Obama’s immigration executive actions, essentially killing his program safeguarding 5 million illegal immigrants.

After Monday’s rulings, the court’s eight justices begin summer break.

They will return the first Monday of October to kick off the 2016-2017 term, still one judge short of a full court.

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