A restrictive Texas law restricting abortion is plainly unconstitutional, but politics has trumped the Constitution in the Supreme Court before. Happily, not on Monday.
By a 5 to 3 vote, the Court found that Texas had put an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions in violation of a landmark 1992 Supreme Court decision, rendering the law unconstitutional. The decision concerned two parts of a law passed by the Republican legislature and signed by Republican Governor Rick Perry in 2013 that helped reduce abortion clinics in the huge state from 40 to 10 in number.
The law required all clinics to meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers and mandated that doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Justice Breyer, in his majority opinion, wrote that neither requirement "offers medical benefits to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes." By pushing clinics into folding, added the judge, the law "places a substantial obstacle in the path of women" seeking an abortion, rendering the law unconstitutional.
The decision establishes a strong precedent for the 12 other states that have contrived onerous abortion restrictions to get around Roe v. Wade. Ideally, it will discourage other states from proposing similar laws.
While abortion can theoretically be made illegal it can never be eliminated. Illegal "back alley" abortion clinics that existed before abortion was legal would return, jeopardizing the health of women as well as their lives. Abortion can be made rare, however, through inexpensive and readily available contraception and sex education classes. It is unfortunate that so many opponents of abortion counterproductively oppose measures that could reduce the number of abortions. That goal should unite everyone on every side of the abortion issue.