The U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision keeping in place for now new restrictions on Texas abortion facilities has thrust the state and the hot-button social issue back into the national spotlight.
"The Texas law is one of several recent state measures adopted by Republican-controlled legislatures that seek to regulate or restrict abortion without banning it," wrote the Los Angeles Times' David G. Savage. "The laws are drafted in a manner that they are expected to be upheld by the Supreme Court's conservative-leaning majority that includes Kennedy. In the past, he has voted to uphold abortion regulations, but has refused to strike down Roe vs. Wade and the right to legal abortion."
Indeed, the five justices who make up the conservative bloc of the court were the ones who upheld the law pushed by Texas Republicans in the Capitol.
Abortion providers and abortion rights groups had challenged a portion of the law that went into effect at the end of October that forced doctors at abortion facilities to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Those challenging the requirement argued that it would lead to the shutdown of a third of the state's abortion facilities.
The court's four-justice liberal bloc agreed with that argument. Justice Stephen Breyer "wrote that the status quo in effect before the law should be maintained 'while the lower courts consider this difficult, sensitive and controversial legal matter,'" wrote the San Antonio Express-News' Peggy Fikac. "The state, he said, 'provides no assurance that a significant number of women seeking abortions will not be affected.'"
The Austin American-Statesman's Chuck Lindell wrote that the conservatives on the court were not swayed. "Abortion providers, [Justice Antonin] Scalia wrote, 'have not carried their heavy burden of showing that [enforcing HB 2] was a clear violation of accepted legal standards — which do not include a special ‘status quo’ standard for laws affecting abortion.'”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis rose to national prominence over the summer through her filibuster of the legislation, which was eventually passed in a subsequent special session. She was quick to criticize the court's decision, reported The Texas Tribune's Becca Aaronson.
"Clinics will close and women's health will be hurt because of this law," Davis said. "This is an abuse of power by politicians in Austin. I trust women to make their own decisions and will continue to work to make sure that women and mothers are safe and have access to adequate health care."
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is defending against legal challenges to HB 2 and will likely face off against Davis next fall in the general election for governor, said: “These are commonsense — and perfectly constitutional — regulations that further the state’s interest in protecting the health and safety of Texas women. ... And we are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that HB 2 will remain in effect.”
Wednesday's action does not end the legal skirmishes over the law. Next up are oral arguments in January before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on the law's constitutionality. The law could wind up before the Supreme Court again before all is said and done.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/11/20/brief-texas-political-news-nov-20-2013/.