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Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt: The Hypocrisy of Abortion Laws


DISCLAIMER: All of the views expressed in this article are solely my own, and do not represent the entirety of the staff at VocaLady Magazine. 

On June 27th, the Supreme Court finally ruled in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case that has been before the Court since 2013. In a 5-3 ruling, the Court struck down parts of Texas laws concerning abortions, in both procedure and access. Specifically, the Court evaluated two parts of the laws in Texas, which had come under fire for providing more obstacles for women rather than helping promote their health and wellness. These two provisions included building requirements for abortion clinics, as well as admitting privileges for abortion doctors. While pro-life and anti-abortion activists (like Speaker Paul Ryan of the House of Representatives) argue that these laws are necessary for “our fight to protect women’s health [and] promote life”, others say that these laws in Texas prove more hypocritical than such intentions.


Paul Ryan tweeted minutes after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v.; Hellerstedt, “I’m disappointed in the Court’s decision. But out fight to protect women’s health & promote life will not stop here.”

To break this down, there have been three large Supreme Court rulings dealing with abortions. The first is the most widely known, Roe v. Wade
(1973), which guaranteed women a basic right to abortion with vague restrictions. Then, Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) specified the limitations that can be imposed on women seeking abortions — the state cannot place an “undue burden” on women; but otherwise, the state can limit women’s access for the sake of their own health and wellness. Lastly, we arrive at the recent decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which is giving us more specific ideas of what an “undue burden” is allowed to look like. So, the largest question to be answered in this case was whether the provisions in Texas’s laws actually help women get access to better healthcare, or if they create an “undue burden” that the courts need to dismantle.

whole woman's health!

The first provision in Texas’s laws forced abortion clinics and facilities to have building specifications that matched outpatient surgical centers or emergency clinics. At first, this seems helpful and harmless. Yet, this provision alone would close around 20 of 40 abortion clinics in Texas. Why? One of the requirements for those buildings is very wide hallways. This would be necessary in outpatient surgical centers so that two gurneys could pass each other easily.But in abortion clinics? Where over 80% of abortions are performed within the first trimester, and most are done with medication and pills? This isn’t needed. This, and other extensive building requirements, would add a huge cost to existing abortion clinics for remodeling and renovating their buildings. Most clinics can’t afford this, so they are forced to shut down as a result of these laws. The second provision required all abortion providers to attain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Again, this sounds simple. However, as a result of this provision, most hospitals began refusing to permit abortion providers access. Or, they would have other ridiculous requirements that no provider could meet. Over time, this provision would further cut the number of abortion clinics in Texas from its current 40, to only 10, for one of the largest states in the United States.


The importance of this case is that it shows the pure hypocrisy of most abortion laws. Many of them rest on this idea of protecting women and preserving our healthcare. Yet, this is done through laws that seemed aimed at shutting down as many clinics and abortion providers as possible. Many might disagree with me, but a key exchange during the case’s oral arguments exemplifies this. When Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller argued on behalf of Texas that these provisions were necessary — for the same cookie-cutter reasons — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked him about the possible “undue burden” this could place on women living on the borders of Texas, unable to travel far enough to go to in-state clinics. The Solicitor General responded that those women could use out-of-state clinics in nearby states like New Mexico, which would be closer options for the 25% of women affected. Ginsburg, however, pointed out to him that by saying that women could use clinics not governed by these controversial provisions, he was admitting that they weren’t necessary to protect women’s health.


During oral arguments, Ginsburg reportedly concluded that “New Mexico is not an available way out for Texas, because Texas says: To protect our women, we need these things. But send them off to New Mexico, and that’s perfectly alright. Well, if that’s alright for the women in [New Mexico], why isn’t it right for the rest of the women in Texas?”

This exchange perfectly exemplifies the modern hypocrisy of the Pro-Life movement, or at least how it is being argued by male politicians. They always find new ways to say that they want to protect women’s health. However, it seems that they only want to protect themselves from the abomination that they perceive abortion to be. Rather than respect the established right of women to choose, they opt instead to test the Court’s boundaries of how many obstacles they can put between a woman and her badly needed or desired abortion procedure. In this context, this case has been a huge success for pro-choice and abortion activists. Partially, this is because of the broadening definition of an “undue burden” that any government can force onto their citizens seeking abortions. But, it also shows us the thinning veil over our politicians’ actions to obstruct our access to abortions. They do not care about women’s health. They care about using our health and wellness to push forward personal agendas, while maintaining their moral high-ground as they go. Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt is pulling this veil back. And now, we must watch the courts decide on the larger, more elusive questions lurking behind it.

For more information on this case, please see the formal majority opinion of the Court in this case. See also these articles giving greater detail about the events of this case, as well as Whole Woman’s Health’s own page about the case. And, if you would like a closer introduction to these laws in Texas, please watch this discussion by John Oliver on the dangers of hypocritical abortion laws.

Photo credit: Cover, 1, 2, 3, 4


One thought on “Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt: The Hypocrisy of Abortion Laws

  1. Pingback: Finding My Faith: A Liberal’s Return to Christianity | Vocalady

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