U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS justices appear 'sharply and perhaps evenly divided' in abortion case

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Protesters gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday as justices considered the constitutionality of Texas abortion-clinic regulations.

The justices “appeared sharply and perhaps evenly divided” during the oral arguments, the New York Times reports. The four liberal justices suggested the regulations served no medical purpose while more conservative justices criticized a lack of evidence about the impact of the regulations. The Associated Press, the Washington Post and the National Law Journal (sub. req.) also have early coverage of the arguments.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, considered the decisive vote, suggested returning the case to lower courts to develop the evidence, which could delay any decision. If Kennedy sides with conservatives, the court would split 4-4. That would let stand a federal appeals court ruling mostly upholding the regulations.

According to the National Law Journal, Kennedy’s questions “did not tip his hand either way.” But the Washington Post says Kennedy expressed concern that restricting access to abortions could cause women to delay abortions until later in their pregnancies, which poses more risk.

One of the regulations at issue requires requires abortion clinics to meet standards for ambulatory surgery centers. The other requires doctors who perform abortions to have admission privileges at a nearby hospital. Abortion-rights advocates say the law would reduce the number of abortion clinics in Texas from about 40 to about 10.

Stephanie Toti, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the justices there was “no evidence of medical benefit” derived from the regulations, according to the National Law Journal account. But Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller said the regulations were intended to benefit women by making abortion safer.

The case is Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

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