Supreme Court abortion ruling should be just the beginning
© Greg Nash

The solid 5-3 majority ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt is a clear victory for the women of Texas – especially those who live in poverty, are undocumented, or live far from the state’s big cities and would struggle physically and financially if they need abortion services if most of the state’s clinics closed. Yet it will likely be just as big of a victory for those in other rural and red states – especially in the south – where similar laws have been blocked by the courts, ensuring that their own burdensome and medically unnecessary regulations never go into effect at all.

While Texas was to be the most immediately affected by the Supreme Court decision Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama all had similar bills requiring local admitting privileges for doctors who perform abortions, and each of them is currently blocked by lower courts. Had the justices ruled that requiring admitting privileges was constitutional – even if the process closed clinic who couldn’t obtain them – the landscape of abortion in the south would have shifted dramatically.

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The Gulf Coast area already has some of the lowest number of clinics in the country, and would be down to less than a dozen providers. From the west border of Texas to the east end of Alabama, just 11 clinics would remain, and in just seven cities. Louisiana and Alabama would have only one clinic each. Mississippi would have none at all.

For this reason alone it’s worth cheering the court’s ruling that there are in fact regulations that create an undue burden to the right to safe, legal abortion care.

But while this is an excellent first step, it is only one finger in a crumbling dike of abortion access. Stopping clinics from closing is important and necessary – but what the patients who still can’t get in to start with because they have to wait 24, 48 or even 72 hours in between clinic visits? What about the teen unable to get a judicial bypass and who was only able to notify one parent, not both parents as her state requires? Or the mother of three who cannot find the hundreds of dollars she needs for her procedure before she progresses past the first trimester and learns no one in the state offers an abortion after 14 weeks? And of course the many women who learn at their 20 week ultrasound scans that their baby has a genetic problem, but that abortion is illegal after 20 weeks in every state nearby, and for whom there is literally no choice but to continue the pregnancy to term?

Forcing patients to travel hundreds of miles to access a clinic is an undue burden, and the Supreme Court rightfully said it agrees. What the Court must do next is also agree that so many other laws are an undue burden, too. Laws that don’t just impact the clinics themselves, but burden each patient directly.

Just as there is no health improvement justification in doctors having local hospital privileges or medication abortions being performed in clinics with extra wide hallways for passing gurneys, there is no health justification to forcing a pregnant person to go home for one to three days to think over her decision after her first clinic appointment. There is no reason behind getting two parents to approve an abortion for a teen if one parent already consents. And there is definitely no reason to place abortion as the one medical procedure that federally funded insurance policies – including Medicaid – refuse to pay for.

The Supreme Court has made a monumental decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt when it comes to protecting safe, legal abortion care. Let’s hope it is the first decision of many.

Robin Marty is a freelance writer who covers abortion access and the pro-life and pro-choice movements for Cosmopolitan.com, Rolling Stone, The Guardian and other outlets, and is the author of Crow After Roe: How Separate But Equal Has Become the New Standard In Women’s Health.