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The impact of the Supreme Court’s Texas abortion clinic ruling

Abortion rights groups say the Supreme Court’s ruling against Texas’ stringent restrictions on abortion doctors and clinics was a major blow against “sham” laws trying to take away a woman’s right to choose. Gwen Ifill gets reaction from Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights and Steven Aden of the Alliance Defending Freedom, advocates on both sides of the court’s decision.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    We are now joined by advocates on both sides of the court's abortion decision.

    Nancy Northup is president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which helped bring the challenge against the Texas law to the courts. And favoring the Texas law, Steven Aden, he's senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom.

    Nancy Northup, since you had the big victory today, we will start with you.

    Tell us what the effect is of this ruling in a small sense, what happens in Texas, and in a broader sense, what happens around the country?

    NANCY NORTHUP, President, Center for Reproductive Rights: This was a tremendous victory today. It was just a clear-out win.

    And so what that means for Texas is that the clinics that are currently open in Texas can stay open — they were threatened to be closed by this underhanded law — and also that other clinics would be able to reopen. You know, one of the things that happened with HB-2 was that it devastated abortion access in Texas, closing half of the laws [sic], under which the Supreme Court said today was unconstitutional, because they weren't justified on medical grounds at all.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, Steven Aden, what worked and what didn't in your argument to keep those — or try to limit the scope of the abortion clinics?

  • STEVEN ADEN, Alliance Defending Freedom:

    Well, we believe, of course, that it's a very big disappointment and a big loss for women's health and safety.

    All Texas was trying to do was regulate abortion in the same way and same manner as other similar outpatient abortion procedures. If you or I go in for a colonoscopy or a laparoscopy, chances are very good that our doctor will have admitting privileges, because once in a while, something goes wrong. And when something goes wrong, you want the best standard of health care available to help you.

    And that's all that Texas was trying to do. And the fact that the Supreme Court would strike this law down by one vote, which it did, doesn't augur well, unfortunately, for women's health.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Weren't you hoping more for a 4-4 let it stand ruling, rather than…

  • STEVEN ADEN:

    That would have been the result, that's right, Gwen. If Justice Kennedy had come along, it would have been a 4-4 split, and the good Fifth Circuit decision affirming the laws would have been upheld. But, alas, that didn't happen today.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Nancy Northup, what about this argument that this was something affecting women's health and in fact that the law was designed to protect women's health?

  • NANCY NORTHUP:

    Well, I think the Supreme Court made clear today that this was a pretext, the idea that it was about women's health, because, as the American Medical Association and others saw, it didn't advance women's health.

    And in fact it hurt it by putting so many women out of reach of being able to get abortion services. It's a game-changer, the decision from the Supreme Court today, which is why we're excited about it, because we have been fighting these kind of sham laws for years. And the Supreme Court has really made clear that you have got to have a justification if you're going to regulate abortion, and that you have to make sure that the burden doesn't overwhelm the justification that the law has, or it can't stand.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Steven Aden, was this a game-changer? Is this landmark, historical, all those big words we have been using today?

  • STEVEN ADEN:

    It remains to be seen whether this is a one-off. As I said, this was basically the decision of one justice who went the other way.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Isn't that how most things get decided in the court?

  • STEVEN ADEN:

    Unfortunately, yes.

    But what we will find out in years to come with I'm sure many cases like this coming before the court is whether the Supreme Court is in earnest in making it more difficult for states to regulate abortion, the same way they do similar outpatient medical providers. That's all Texas was really trying to do.

    And the fact that it in fact closed a number of clinics says two things. First, as the lead plaintiff in one of the cases, Amy Hagstrom Miller, said twice to The Wall Street Journal, she's more concerned about Planned Parenthood closing her down, because Planned Parenthood is cornering the market for abortion in Texas, than about regulation itself.

    So we don't know why those clinics closed, many of them. We just know that they did. And that was the argument that Texas made. But, unfortunately, again, the Supreme Court by one vote didn't accept that argument.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    I want you to respond to that. And then I want to ask you about that single-vote majority.

  • NANCY NORTHUP:

    Well, I think really the decision today is the response to that.

    The court could not have been clearer that was no justification for these laws. And this is what we have been facing in scores of laws passed around the country. And court after court after court in general have blocked them because they're not justified. They see them for what they are, which is an attempt to do by the back door what you can't by the front, which is ban abortion.

    The Supreme Court reiterated today, as it has for 40 years, women have a right to make the important personal decisions for their lives. And with this decision today, the reason it's so monumental is that it protects for the next generation of American women the right to make these decisions for themselves.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let's talk about how the decision got made. You have mentioned a couple of times, Steven Aden, that Justice Kennedy, is who you're speaking of in this case, decided basically to tip the balance. Were you surprised by that?

  • STEVEN ADEN:

    A little bit.

    He has made no secret of his antipathy for abortion. He spoke strongly against it the last time the Supreme Court made a pronouncement on the practice back in Gonzales v. Carhart.

    What is interesting to note about this is, when you talk about women making decisions, this law was upheld twice by two Fifth Circuit panels. On those Fifth Circuit panels were five different women, and I think that says a lot for how women view this law.

    By and large, when they get a chance to look at the facts, they uphold it. But in this case, one man, Justice Breyer, writing for the court, decided that law was a no-go, imposed an undue burden, which is a shame.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    What about that, the idea that one man writing for the court turned this upside down, against the interests of women?

  • NANCY NORTHUP:

    The Supreme Court obviously is — five justices ruled today in our favor. And the issue is not whether it's men or women sitting on the court.

    Americans differ in their views about abortion. What's important and the courts recognize that, while people of good faith can disagree about abortion, the Constitution protects our decisions that we make about whether or not to end a pregnancy, the decisions about our family and our lives and our health.

    And that's what matters. So people can make their own decisions, but what the court protects and the rule of law was vindicated today was that it is for women to make these decisions. That's been true for over 40 years, and it was reaffirmed again today in this important case.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    That said, were you surprised by Justice Kennedy's decision?

  • NANCY NORTHUP:

    Justice Kennedy was in the majority in the Planned Parenthood vs. Casey case, which was the last huge abortion case that set the standard that the court interpreted today.

    So Justice Kennedy was consistent with the decision, as the court was in what they ruled on 24 years ago.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let me ask you both briefly, is this it? Is this over, or does this fight continue in another way?

  • STEVEN ADEN:

    I think it continues in many ways. The pro-life movement has been winning on all fronts. It lost today in this one court, but it's been winning in the court of public opinion. It's been winning the First Amendment questions about access to sidewalks in front of abortion clinics.

    By and large, the — in fact, the abortion rate today is the same as it was in 1973, the year Roe vs. Wade was decided, which tells me that the pro-life movement is winning. And I think will continue to win, regardless of what the courts say, although the fight will continue in the courts.

  • NANCY NORTHUP:

    We have a lot of work ahead of us.

    There are state laws that we're going to get overturned in the light of this decision. And the momentum is on our side. In fact, seven in 10 Americans do support that women should be able to make the decision about terminating a pregnancy.

    And so, as we see the fight is going to go ahead, we are going to see the momentum be on the side. And the Supreme Court's overwhelming rejection of underhanded tactics that they did today is a really good sign for the future.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Steven Aden, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, thank you both very much.

  • NANCY NORTHUP:

    Thank you.

  • STEVEN ADEN:

    Thank you, Gwen.

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