WASHINGTON – A sharply divided Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed Texas to continue enforcing abortion restrictions that opponents say have led more than a third of the state’s clinics to stop providing abortions.
The justices voted 5-4 to leave in effect a provision requiring doctors who perform abortions in clinics to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
The court’s conservative majority refused the plea of Planned Parenthood and several Texas abortion clinics to overturn a preliminary federal appeals court ruling that allowed the provision to take effect.
The four liberal justices – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor – dissented.
The case remains on appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. That court is expected to hear arguments in January, and the law will remain in effect at least until then.
Breyer, writing for the liberal justices, said he expects the issue to return to the Supreme Court once the appeals court issues its final ruling.
The Texas Legislature approved the requirement for admitting privileges in July.
In late October, days before the provision was to take effect, a trial judge blocked it, saying it probably is unconstitutional because it puts a “substantial obstacle” in front of a woman wanting an abortion.
But a three-judge appellate panel moved quickly to overrule the judge.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing in support of the high court order Tuesday, said the clinics could not overcome a heavy legal burden against overruling the appeals court. The justices may not do so “unless that court clearly and demonstrably erred,” Scalia said in an opinion that was joined by Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy did not write separately or join any opinion Tuesday, but because it takes five votes to overturn the appellate ruling, it is clear that they voted with their conservative colleagues.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, praised the Supreme Court action.
“This is good news both for the unborn and for the women of Texas, who are now better protected from shoddy abortion providers operating in dangerous conditions. As always, Texas will continue doing everything we can to protect the culture of life in our state,” Perry said.
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the groups will continue the legal fight:
“We will take every step we can to protect the health of Texas women. This law is blocking women in Texas from getting a safe and legal medical procedure that has been their constitutionally protected right for 40 years. This is outrageous and unacceptable – and also demonstrates why we need stronger federal protections for women’s health.”
Tennessee and Utah are the other states enforcing their laws on admitting privileges.