Newport News Times, 29 June 2016
By Nel Ward, Central Oregon Coast Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW)
The Supreme Court has said “no” to whether states can pass laws to restrict abortion access
without benefits for women’s health by claiming that these laws are health regulations. The
decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt earlier this week overturned two provisions of
a 2013 Texas law mandating that abortion providers have admitting privileges from local
hospitals and that abortion clinics meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.
The 5 th Circuit Court agreed with the Texas law, but the Supreme Court overturned the lower
decision. In the majority opinion for this landmark 5-3 ruling, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that
these two “unnecessary health regulations” impose an “undue burden” on women’s right to
During the first year of the Texas law, 5.4 million women of reproductive age in its 268,820
square miles lost 23 of 41 clinics. Breyer had earlier stated in oral arguments that further travel,
expenses, time off work, etc. endanger women’s health because they are more likely to have
illegal abortions—and at least 240,000 Texas women have done so since the law was
implemented. If the Supreme Court had not overturned the law, another nine would have been
forced to close, resulting in more undue burden on women.
Several states have laws similar to those struck down by the Supreme Court. Fourteen states
mandate local hospital partnerships for abortion providers, and 22 states require ambulatory
surgical center standards for abortion clinics. They all use the excuse of women’s safety for a
procedure far safer than pregnancy, childbirth, colonoscopies—even tonsillectomies and dental
surgeries. Whole Woman’s Health makes these laws highly vulnerable.
A woman’s right to an abortion became the law of the land in 1973 when Roe v. Wade legalized
abortions throughout the United States during the first two trimesters. Two decades later, the
Court reduced that time to fetal viability in Planned Parent v. Casey (1992) and allowed states
to make restrictive laws about abortion rights. In the same decision, however, justices ruled
that laws cannot place an “undue burden” on the woman.
Conservative state legislatures competed to see which one could further whittle down women’s
reproductive rights through extensive waiting periods, forced ultrasounds, mandatory
counseling, required mandatory dissemination of false information, forcing doctors to lie to
patients, etc. Between 2011 and 2015, 22 states imposed 288 new restrictions on abortion
clinics and eliminated abortions in all except 12 percent of U.S. counties—3 percent if you don’t
count metropolitan areas. Doctors are no longer trained in the procedure: less than one-half of
ob-gyn residency programs include first trimester abortion as a routine education.
Oregon is the only state without these restrictions, yet the lack of accessibility requires many
women to travel long distances for abortions. The closest clinic for Lincoln County women is
over an hour away; women in other Oregon areas have farther to go.
Fortunately, Oregon women can access funds that help them receive safe abortions. Legal
Oregon residents for at least five years who meet income limits may receive funding through
the Oregon Health Plan (https://cairproject.org/info/oregon/). Women who do not meet these
requirements can access other funds and information: Community Abortion Information
Resources, http://www.cairproject.org – referrals and funds; Network for Reproductive Options,
http://www.nroptions.org – referrals, funds for abortions, transportation, and lodging; Planned
transportation and lodging from Oregon, Washington, and Idaho to Portland; and Cascade
Support Collective, http://www.cascadesabortionsupport.org – referrals, funds, and emotional support
for women in the Portland area.
Abortion is a difficult issue to discuss; it deals with a deep-seated need for procreation. But 56
percent of people in the U.S. think that women should have access to abortions in all or most
cases, and one-third of all women will have abortions during their lifetimes. Eight-six percent of
voters agree with the statement, “however we feel about abortion, politicians should not be
allowed to deny a woman’s health coverage because she is poor.” The Supreme Court decision
does not erase these laws across the country, but it’s the first step toward blocking anti-
abortion laws that fail to serve women’s health needs.
Central Oregon Coast NOW
Page A6, Newport News Times, June 29, 2016