WASHINGTON • The Supreme Court struck down Texas' widely replicated regulation of abortion clinics Monday in the court's biggest abortion case in nearly a quarter century, a decision that could impact Missouri's similar laws.
The justices voted 5-3 in favor of Texas clinics that argued the rules requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and for clinics to meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery were a thinly veiled attempt to make it harder for women to get an abortion. Texas had argued that its 2013 law and subsequent regulations were needed to protect women's health.
Justice Stephen Breyer's majority opinion for the court held that the regulations are medically unnecessary and unconstitutionally limit a woman's right to an abortion.
The state of Missouri already requires physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. And, in 1986, Missouri was the first state to require abortion clinics to meet the same regulations as outpatient surgical centers.
The Court's decision does not automatically strike down similar laws nationwide. A challenge to the Missouri laws will have to be filed.
"One of the reasons why the Supreme Court took the case was because there were conflicting opinions across the country," said Jessica Pieklo, a legal analyst for Rewire, a reproductive rights nonprofit. "What today's opinion said was the fifth circuit (court of appeals) got it wrong. In terms of knocking down the dominoes state by state that have identical or nearly identical laws, that is not a thing that can happen yet."
Planned Parenthood will launch a fight to overturn the regulations in Missouri, said Laura McQuade, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.
"We are looking at all avenues to invalidate those two restrictions in the state of Missouri," she said.
Planned Parenthood in St. Louis is the only abortion provider in the state after the University of Missouri revoked the credentials of Dr. Colleen McNicholas last fall. A hearing to review McNicholas' privileges at MU is set for July 15.
However, the Planned Parenthood in Columbia had previously filed a complaint seeking an injunction to stop the state from revoking its abortion license because McNicholas no longer had admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The judge granted a permanent injunction, but it will have no effect after the license is already set to expire at midnight on Thursday.
Tony Rothert, legal director for the ACLU of Missouri, said this legal battle in federal court over admitting privileges in Columbia will be a good avenue to challenge the current abortion restrictions in Missouri.
"In Missouri, it will take costly litigation to strike down provisions even those that are clearly unconstitutional," Rothert said.
Alison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, said she was waiting to be briefed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the group that filed the lawsuit, about what the decision could mean for Missouri.
"I just think that the Supreme Court has powerfully reaffirmed a woman's constitutional right to make her own decision," Dreith told the Post-Dispatch Monday.
Breyer wrote that "the surgical-center requirement, like the admitting privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions and constitutes an 'undue burden' on their constitutional right to do so."
Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Breyer.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.
Thomas wrote that the decision "exemplifies the court's troubling tendency 'to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue.'" Thomas was quoting an earlier abortion dissent from Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.
Abortion providers said the rules would have cut the number of abortion clinics in the state by three-fourths if they had been allowed to take full effect.
When then-Gov. Rick Perry signed the law in 2013, there were about 40 clinics throughout the state. That number dropped to under 20 and would have been cut in half again if the law had taken full effect, the clinics said.
Texas is among 10 states with similar admitting privileges requirements, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. The requirement is in effect in most of Texas, Missouri, North Dakota and Tennessee. It is on hold in Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
The hospital-like outpatient surgery standards are in place in Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and it is blocked in Tennessee and Texas, according to the center, which represented the clinics in the Texas case.
Reaction to the court decision came along party lines, with Republicans from the St. Louis area condemning it, and Democrats praising it.
Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, said she was "shocked by the Supreme Court’s failure to protect the lives of this nation’s unborn children and their mothers." She called the Texas law "common sense… that protects women’s health.” She had signed an amicus brief supporting the state of Texas.
But Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the court affirmed opponents' belief that the Texas law was "passed under the guise of protecting women's health" but that it "placed an undue burden on low-income and rural women’s ability to make their own medical decisions."
Texas passed a broad bill imposing several abortion restrictions in 2013. Texas clinics sued immediately to block it claiming it impermissibly interfered with a woman's constitutional right to an abortion. The clinics won several favorable rulings in a federal district court in Texas. But each time, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state, at first allowing challenged provisions to take effect and then upholding the law with only slight exceptions.
The Supreme Court allowed the admitting privileges requirement to take effect in most of the state, but put the surgical center provision on hold pending the court's resolution of the case.
The justices split largely along liberal-conservative lines in their emergency orders, with the court's conservative justices voting repeatedly to let the law be enforced.
Separate lawsuits are pending over admitting-privileges laws in Louisiana and Mississippi, the other states covered by the 5th circuit. The laws are on hold in both states, and a panel of federal appellate judges has concluded the Mississippi law probably is unconstitutional because it would force the only abortion clinic in the state to close.
A separate appeal is pending at the Supreme Court from Wisconsin, where federal judges have struck down that state's admitting privileges law.
Samantha Liss, Blythe Bernhard and Chuck Raasch of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.