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Liberal Supreme Court Justices Critical of Texas Abortion Law

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The justices heard almost 90 minutes of arguments on a Texas law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges. The law also requires clinics to upgrade their standards to meet those of an ambulatory surgical center.

Abortion clinics and doctors are challenging a Texas law that could force more than three-quarters of the state's clinics to shut down. The corridors must be at least eight feet wide, to enable two trolleys to pass. The state's remaining abortion providers say that they have never encountered a situation in which the width of a corridor was thought relevant to their work.

Though supporters of the Texas law insist the state's strict medical regulations were meant to promote health and safety, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued they would actually hurt women.

The hearing took place in the middle of a raucous presidential campaign and less than three weeks after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, an outspoken opponent of abortion rights.

A decision is expected from the court in June.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, considered the decisive vote, suggested returning the case to lower courts to develop the evidence, which could delay any decision. The Court's four conservatives challenged whether the Texas restrictions impose an "undue burden" on women, and its four liberals questioned the medical necessity of the restrictions. Meanwhile, Justice Samuel Alito said, "As to some of them, there's information that [abortion clinics] closed for reasons that had nothing to do with this law".

She argued on behalf of the Texas clinics facing closure. In past abortion cases, he has backed a fundamental right to abortion while supporting some restrictions. He provided the margin of victory in the 1992 case that bolstered the abortion right the court declared in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

Kennedy's questions Wednesday did not make clear where he is headed.

"The advancement of the abortion industry's bottom line shouldn't take precedence over women's health, and we look forward to demonstrating the validity of these important health and safety requirements in court."
Members of the group were present during oral arguments Wednesday morning.

When the ERLC-SBTC brief was filed February 1, ERLC President Russell Moore said, "Abortion activists have claimed for years that protecting women from harm is their primary goal, but they are certainly on the wrong side of women's health on this issue". As usual, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas did not ask any questions.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her fellow liberal judges repeatedly asked Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller to justify the need for more stringent regulations.

But the conservative justices seemed skeptical the law was to blame for the closures. First, if Justice Kennedy thinks the regulations have gone too far, they'll likely be struck down 5-3, which will make it harder for states to pass abortion regulations that seriously interfere with women's ability to obtain abortions.

This is unlikely, though, he continued, and the more probable outcome will be that the lower court ruling stands, leaving HB2 intact.

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