From now on lawmakers in Kentucky and other states will have to base abortion laws on scientific fact and medical necessity, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down restrictions that closed more than half of the abortion providers in Texas.
The 5-3 decision exposed the favorite anti-choice pretense — “we’re only trying to protect women’s safety” — for the sanctimonious sham that it is.
The Texas law, like legislation approved this year by the Kentucky Senate, served no medical purpose and, in fact, increased risk by delaying abortions, overcrowding the remaining clinics and increasing the pressure on women to self-induce abortions, the high court found.
In a transparent move that other states rushed to copy, Texas had required abortion providers to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, a big expense and an impossibility for some facilities. Texas also required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 50 miles, which some hospitals had denied. All of this was ostensibly to protect women from medical complications of abortion.
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That pretense was dashed by reams of evidence that abortion is as safe as other procedures routinely performed in outpatient settings. Complications arise in fewer than 4 percent of first trimester abortions and most are easily treatable. According to undisputed evidence in the case, the overall complication rate for abortion is much lower than for tonsillectomy, which is around 9 percent, and about the same as or slightly less than a colonoscopy. Major complications occur in fewer than half of 1 percent of abortions, and the abortion mortality rate is roughly the same as in-office dental surgery. A person is 14 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to die from having an abortion.
“Given those realities,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her concurrence, “it is beyond rational belief that H.B. 2 (the Texas law) could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.”
Also, Ginsburg wrote: “When a state severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners, faux de mieux (for lack of any other alternative), at great risk to their health and safety.”
The Supreme Court ruled 43 years ago that the Constitution guarantees women the right to choose to end a pregnancy. In 1992, the court ruled that states may not place an undue burden on women seeking to exercise that right.
The Texas legislature obviously was out to make it as hard as possible for Texas women to exercise their constitutional right — with scant if any medical benefits to justify that burden or the additional risks it imposed.
Making it as hard as possible for Kentucky women to exercise their right is behind Gov. Matt Bevin’s actions shutting down two of Kentucky’s three abortion providers, while offering zero evidence of harm to any patient at any of the clinics.
Likewise for Kentucky’s Republican lawmakers, and many Democrats as well, who are eager to enact unconstitutional restrictions like the one the Supreme Court just struck down.
Given that future laws must reflect an understanding of their medical implications, the Senate may have to start vetting its unconstitutional abortion bills through the Health and Welfare Committee rather than its usual standby on gynecological matters, the all-male Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection chaired by Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London.
And anti-abortion politicians should stop saying they’re just trying to protect women.