The ruling of Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt makes today a great day for all women.
In 1973—over 40 years ago—Roe v. Wade was ruled upon in the Supreme Court, securing women’s rights to their own body. Although Roe v. Wade protected abortions in almost all cases under several amendments, there have still been many attempts to circumvent this ruling by decreasing abortion clinic access. On June 27, 2016, the ruling against Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt changed that.
In the 5–3 vote—a surprise to many—the court ruled in favor of Whole Woman’s Health, stating that Texas’s restrictions on abortion clinics, which have caused so many to shut down, was an “undue burden” on abortions. While Roe v. Wade included the “undue burden” article, this current case declared exactly what that meant. The case was in direct response to House Bill 2, which restricted clinics with expensive and unnecessary structural and equipment requirements and unrealistic provisions for those doctors perform the procedure.
Although Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa v. Casey reaffirmed Roe v. Wade in 1992, Whole Women’s Health the first big abortion case in over 20 years. Almost everything was at stake with this ruling. If it were to go another way, either a 4–4 tie (because of the absence of Anthony Scalia) or in the opposite direction, it would have been only the first in many steps to override Roe v. Wade.
This ruling is a feat for all women, but especially low-income women. Although the United States has ruled on the legality of abortions throughout the states, it gave each of the states the ability to create laws around them under their own jurisdiction. This is incredibly important, as many states, especially more conservative ones, have implemented legislation that makes it incredibly hard to have access to abortions. These laws are passed under the false pretense of “protecting women.” In reality, these laws have only come to limit, silence, disregard, and restrict women’s rights.
The laws and requirements in the pre-abortion phase go anywhere from making women watch “educational” videos on abortion before they make their decisions to mandatory waiting periods to enforcing incredibly strict requirements for each other doctors leading to the closing of an enormous number of clinics—the exact same thing that happened in Texas.
Many women who live in rural Texas have been left with access to few abortion clinics, and millions of women have had to drive over 100 miles to receive an abortion. This, however, is not a viable possibility to many who work over 40 hours a week and have multiple other responsibilities, and possibly don’t even have access to a car or cannot afford the gas for that long of a drive.
Even those who are not currently living below the poverty line are at risk when denied access to abortions. A study was done by Advanced New Standards in Reproductive Health, which showed that women who carry unwanted pregnancies to term are more likely to live in poverty. Another revealing statistic shows that 40% of women said that they wanted an abortion because financial reasons.
Through Texas’s strict abortion clinic restrictions, it has cut the number of its abortion clinics in half, coming in about 20. Without Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt, it would have lowered that number to five clinics in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Texas’s strict restrictive laws would have made abortions “illegal” in the state, without making them illegal. While people in these big, populated cities would have access to safe abortions, the large, rural areas of the second largest state, primarily in Western Texas and along the Mexican border, would have barely any access at all.
In a study done in 2012, there were 66.8 million women of reproductive age and almost 40 million women were in need of contraceptive services. 20 million of that 40 million required publicly funded services. But, even with these numbers, publicly funded clinics could only meet 31% of that need. Since 2012, the number of women in need of these services has increased upward of 15%, while the number that publicly funded clinics have reached have decreased 10%.
This decision also applies to other states with similar regulations, determining them as unconstitutional and causing a wave of positive pro-choice abortions clinics throughout the U.S. Abortion has been legal for years, but only symbolically. Why make abortions legal if those who need it cannot get it? Now, we are one step closer to abortion accessibility. One step closer to giving women the equal rights to their bodies that they deserve and are constitutionally provided.