Skip to main content

A Huge Win for Reproductive Rights Activists

The Supreme Court strikes down abortion restrictions in Texas.

By Francie Diep


Texas abortion provider Amy Hagstrom-Miller looks on as Nancy Northup, president of The Center for Reproductive Rights, speaks to the media outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court ruled today against Texas’ controversial abortion-clinic laws. The laws required that doctors who perform abortions have so-called “admitting privileges” at a nearby hospital, and that clinics where abortions are performed are built to stricter standards. Proponents said the rules were necessary to protect the health and safety of women seeking abortions. Opponents argued the higher standards weren’t needed, and would lead to the closure of many clinics, effectively interfering with women’s constitutional right to receive an abortion. The case, Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, was the most significant one having to do with abortion that the Supreme Court has heard in decades.

Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt brought up some obvious questions: How safe are abortions? Did Texan women have an unreasonably hard time getting abortions after the laws were enacted?

More than 91 percent of abortions performed in the United States have a complication rate of 0.5 percent or less.

Fortunately, research can provide some answers. We reported on studies that show more than 91 percent of abortions performed in the United States have a complication rate of 0.5 percent or less. The rest are riskier, with every passing week associated with higher rates of death, starting in the second trimester. Overall, however, abortion in the U.S. remains far less risky than childbirth.

A number of studies recently cropped up to examine what happened after the Texas laws were enacted. That research found that about half of the clinics performing abortions in Texas closed; Texan women had fewer abortions; and those who did have abortions were more likely to have riskier, second-trimester abortions and less likely to have safer, first-trimester, pill-induced procedures.

America’s highest court seemed to acknowledge the unusually large role science had to play in this decision. The majority opinion cites numbers and studies like the ones Pacific Standard has written about, to conclude “neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access.”