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Stanford University School of Medicine

Stanford law expert weighs in on Supreme Court’s abortion ruling

Supreme Court

As has been widely reported today, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down parts of a Texas law that would have severely limited access to abortion providers; the justices said the restrictions placed an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to seek an abortion.

Michelle Mello, PhD, JD, a Stanford professor of law and health research and policy, was a signatory to a brief submitted to the Supreme Court in support of the challenge to the law, and earlier today she answered some questions about the ruling and its significance in a Stanford Health Policy Q&A. A sampling:

What was the main argument of the amici curiae brief submitted to the Supreme Court by public health academics and organizations?

There were two critical factual points that had to be made. First, although the Texas law’s provisions were putatively adopted to benefit women’s health, they actually had no medical benefit.  Second, the law had a rapid, dramatic effect on access to abortion in Texas.  Particularly because in Texas several other restrictions already limited access to abortion and funding for family planning services was scant, this poses a real threat to public health.

Why do you and the other signatories consider this a public health issue?

More than 60,000 Texas women per year obtain legal abortions. While we’d all like to see this number go down, you can’t restrict access to abortion while also failing to provide adequate support for other methods of family planning. History makes it abundantly clear that the result will be greater numbers of women resorting to illegal, unsafe abortions or facing the mental and physical health risks of carrying unwanted pregnancies to term.

Does the Supreme Court’s holding have implications beyond this case?

Yes, because the Court clarified how it will apply the 'undue burden' standard of Planned Parenthood v. Casey in future cases. The majority said that courts must balance 'the burdens a law imposes on abortion access' against 'the benefits those laws confer.' The justices also clarified that appellate courts can take a deep dive into the factual evidence about a law’s effects presented earlier in the case. These holdings collectively make it harder for states to adopt abortion restrictions based on flimsy arguments about how they will benefit women.

Previously: Zika and reproductive rights: new geographies, similar concerns
Photo by Matt Wade

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