The U.S. Supreme Court hears oral discussions today in what may be its most significant abortion case in a generation. The central problem in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedtis the extent to which states (in this case, Texas) can go in adopting limitations — here, regulations on abortion clinics and doctors — before the obstacles become so high as to render a woman’s right to abortion all but meaningless for various.
A Supreme Court showdown has been brewing since Texas lawmakers approved the package of measures called as H.B. 2 in 2013. Among other provisions, the Texas law needs abortion clinics to adhere to surgical-level building requirements and abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at regional hospitals. More than half of the state’s 41 clinics have shut down; if H.B. 2 stands, abortion rights activists claim, no more than ten would survive — and none west of San Antonio. About 17% of the females in Texas would confront one-way travel distances of 150 miles or more.
The result of the case is anyone’s guess, but the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia on the day of Feb. 13 means its effect could be less sweeping than legal experts had been assuming last fall. The primary query is how Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee and the swing vote in so many 5–4 rulings over the past decade, will decide. If Kennedy sides with the court’s remaining conservatives, the likely outcome — a 4–4 split — would leave H.B. 2 intact but set no national precedent. If Kennedy sides with the court’s liberals, abortion opponents could be compelled to rewrite a highly victorious playbook that has led to more than 300 new restrictions since the year 2010.
To assist to sort through some of the problems at stake, here’s a ProPublica reading guide, updated from a previous version published in the month of November 2015.
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