By Steve Vasquez and Melissa Holmes, Texas Watchdog
HOUSTON — Abortion was illegal in Texas back in the 1970s, but that did not stop abortion clinics in Oklahoma from opening up in the state. In fact, on Friday the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case that could restore abortion in Texas once again.
The case brought by the attorneys general of Texas and Oklahoma will decide whether abortion will be legal again for those women living in the Lone Star State. A win by Texas and Oklahoma would allow abortion clinics to reopen after a 2014 law that banned abortion at 20 weeks into a pregnancy went into effect.
“If abortion is allowed back in Texas, they can open a one-week clinic,” said Elaine White, former executive director of the Center for Roe v. Wade Action, which monitors clinics across the country. “If the Supreme Court denies the petition for relief, the door to abortion will open here to all women across the country.”
The 2015 Texas law prevents any abortion clinic from operating within 350 feet of a clinic that provides general medicine or obstetrics and gynecology. The law also forbids abortion providers from contacting patients who are under 18 years old.
Attorney General Ken Paxton and Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter contend the law would continue to protect the health and safety of women who undergo abortions in Texas.
According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, 2,296 abortions occurred in Texas in 2014, according to the Texas Tribune. About 215,000 women seek abortions each year in Texas, and abortions represent less than 1 percent of all women of childbearing age, the Tribune reported.
A federal district court in Texas struck down the law in 2016, but the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it did not pass constitutional muster, saying it violates the 8th Amendment’s protection against “an undue burden on a woman’s right to abortion.”
The United States Supreme Court will hear arguments on Friday.
“We are not just asking the Supreme Court to overrule the 2010 appeals court decision, but to also declare a new Constitution that protects pregnant women’s constitutional rights,” Paxton said. “If the American people believe that there’s anything the 14th Amendment protects, it’s the core right to an abortion, and they need to pressure their senators to step up and insist that the Supreme Court reverse this disastrous ruling.”
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the court’s decision “will answer whether Texas’ 20-week abortion ban is constitutional and whether women across the state of Texas have the right to access an abortion.”
“The Center for Reproductive Rights remains steadfast in our support of women’s reproductive health and well-being,” Northup said. “While it is our view that Roe v. Wade and its progeny are the law of the land, this court should resist attempts to dismantle Roe and its progeny.”
However, constitutional law experts say it’s unlikely the justices will take up the issue.
Many of the justices that voted to overturn an earlier court ruling that banned partial-birth abortion are on the court now, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas.
“If the court does hear this case, the most likely outcome is an opinion just like the Texas law, which would also prevent Texas from preventing lawsuits that claim the right to abortion,” Harvard University law professor Laurence Tribe told LiveScience.
If the court upholds the lower court ruling, abortion-rights advocates would hope President Donald Trump would restore the law so it could go into effect. But given the current political climate, Roe v. Wade may be erased, activists say.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if they overturned it or stayed it,” said White. “If they stayed it, it would be the one good thing that happened in the past week.”
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