Abortion Case May Impact Pa. Laws; A Supreme Court Deeply Split over Abortion Wrestled Wednesday with Widely Replicated Texas Regulations That Could Drastically Cut the Number of Abortion Clinics in the State. [Derived Headline]

By Bowling, Brian | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 3, 2016 | Go to article overview

Abortion Case May Impact Pa. Laws; A Supreme Court Deeply Split over Abortion Wrestled Wednesday with Widely Replicated Texas Regulations That Could Drastically Cut the Number of Abortion Clinics in the State. [Derived Headline]


Bowling, Brian, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


A Supreme Court deeply split over abortion wrestled Wednesday with widely replicated Texas regulations that could drastically cut the number of abortion clinics in the state.

As ever, Justice Anthony Kennedy appeared to hold the outcome in his hands on a court operating with eight justices since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

The court heard oral arguments on the regulations, which resemble those in Pennsylvania. The impact the high court's ruling could have here is nearly impossible to predict, experts said.

The sudden death of Scalia, an outspoken opponent of abortion rights, leaves the court with a potential 4-4 split on the issue, which would leave in place current restrictions opponents say limit women's access to abortions.

Kennedy is perceived as the swing vote that could produce a 5-3 vote overturning the Texas regulations. If that happens, the local impact "would depend on what the reasoning is" in the decision, said Randall Wenger, a lawyer for the Pennsylvania Family Institute.

The likely result is a ruling that leaves the door open for another challenge before a full Supreme Court, he said.

"I don't think we've seen the last of this," Wenger said.

Both states require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, but the Texas law also requires the clinics' doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinics.

The court could overturn the Texas law based on the admitting privileges requirement or even some part of its ambulatory surgical center requirement that doesn't match Pennsylvania's law, experts said.

"It's very hard to predict what the state's specific impact will be," said Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates.

Five abortion clinics shut down after Pennsylvania tightened its standards in 2011, leaving it with 19 clinics. Those clinics couldn't meet "simple and basic" requirements that should apply to any health care facility, said Helen Cindrich, executive director of People Concerned for the Unborn Child.

"If these justices care about women, they will affirm those regulations," she said.

The court's most significant abortion case since the early 1990s crackled with intensity during 85 minutes of pointed questions from liberal and conservative justices that suggested little common ground in resolving the clinics' claim that the regulations are medically unnecessary and unconstitutionally limit a woman's right to an abortion.

The rules would cut the number of abortion clinics in Texas by three-fourths, abortion providers say.

The Texas and Pennsylvania laws were in response to a 2010-11 grand jury investigation into a Philadelphia abortion clinic with filthy operating rooms, broken and blood-caked equipment, fetal body parts stored in glass jars and other "horrors. …

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