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AZ Pro-Choice Movement Optimistic After SCOTUS Strikes Down Texas Abortion Law

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The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to strike down a draconian Texas abortion law appears to be more than a symbolic win for Arizona's pro-choice movement.

At a Monday afternoon press conference, Jodi Liggett, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Arizona, called the ruling a landmark victory that "establishes a strong standard that laws intended to erect barriers between women and the health care they need has no place in the Constitution."

While the decision has no immediate effect on Arizona's so-called TRAP laws (Targeted Regulations for Abortion Providers), it opens up many of them to new legal challenges.

"Arizona has similar restrictions to the ones SCOTUS found to be an undue burden on women," Liggett said. "Planned Parenthood Arizona is heartened that our Supreme Court has made it clear that politicians cannot pass laws to block access to safe, legal abortion. A person's right to make their own decisions about abortion shouldn't depend on who they are or where they live."

The case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, called into question two provisions of a 2013 Texas abortion law referred to as House Bill 2: that any doctor performing a surgical or medical abortion must have admitting privileges at a hospital less than 30 miles away; and that clinics providing abortions must meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical facility.

Had it been implemented in full, the 2013 law would have forced more than 75 percent of the state's abortion clinics to shut down.

Those who supported the measure claimed it helps protect women's health, while those who opposed it called it a veiled attempt to limit access to abortion. After four days of oral argument and months of consideration, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that the law was unconstitutional.

"Both the admitting-privileges and the surgical-center requirements place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violate the Constitution," wrote Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who delivered the majority opinion.

"It is beyond rational belief that HB 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her own concurring opinion. She later said TRAP laws like this "do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion, [and] cannot survive judicial inspection."

Liggett says legal experts working for Planned Parenthood and its allies are poring over the decision to determine what might lie ahead for Arizona.

Over the past few years, the Arizona Legislature has enacted more than a dozen laws restricting abortion, many of them spearheaded by Cathi Herrod, president of the ardently pro-life Center for Arizona Policy.

Herrod was not pleased with the Supreme Court ruling, writing in a statement that it "means women undergoing an abortion will not have the same common-sense safety precautions in place as they would for any other medical procedure. To give the abortion industry a blanket exemption from laws applicable to every other medical facility is unconscionable."

Asked to respond to Herrod's comment, Liggett pointed out that Breyer's majority opinion asserted the opposite: that abortion providers should not have to adhere to intense regulation from which other, statistically less-safe procedures, are exempt.

What's more, Liggett adds, "This decision today is such a move in the right direction because the court is saying we're not just going to take at face value what the Legislature says is best for women's health."

Medical experts have repeatedly stated that some of Arizona's abortion laws have no basis in science.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which had upheld the Texas law as constitutional, had found that a legislative claim that a law is in a woman's best interest takes precedence over weighing the evidence.

The Supreme Court didn't buy that argument. The State of Texas "[did] not show how the new law advanced the State’s legitimate interest in protecting women’s health when compared to the prior law, which required providers to have a 'working arrangement' with doctors who had admitting privileges," Justice Breyer wrote.  "At the same time, the record evidence indicates that the requirement places a 'substantial obstacle' in a woman’s path to abortion. The dramatic drop in the number of clinics means fewer doctors, longer waiting times, and increased crowding. It also means a significant increase in the distance women of reproductive age live from an abortion clinic."

Like women in Texas, women in Arizona face "insurmountable barriers to safely accessing their legal right to have an abortion," Planned Parenthood Arizona asserted in a written statement. "As a health-care provider, Planned Parenthood Arizona has seen the devastating consequences for women here and, in states like Texas, [when] politicians have restricted access to abortion ... That is why Planned Parenthood and our partners in the legislature are taking this fight to the Capitol."
State Senator Katie Hobbs, who spoke at Monday's press conference, said she would help "lead the legislative effort to repeal these onerous state laws." But when pressed about how she intends to go about this, given the pro-life majority in the legislature, Hobbs admitted she didn't anticipate immediate results.

"I don't expect that there's going to be a lot of urgency to get things changed," she said.

"If we're not successful in the Legislature, we will be at the courthouse," Liggett chimed in, acknowledging that a legislative fix would be more time- and cost-efficient.

"It's a game," she concluded. "We all have the same goal: to have fewer abortions. And from Planned Parenthood's perspective, we think the way you get there is by providing family planning. But our opponents want to do it by interfering with a woman's access to an abortion."

Click here to see the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt.

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