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Potential Ramifications of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt & an Overview of Recent Abortion Legislation

25 July 2016

On June 27, the Supreme Court issued a 5-3 ruling on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Justice Breyer wrote the majority opinion, reversing and remanding two provisions of HB 2, which was passed by the Texas legislature during a special session in 2013.

The majority opinion was largely based on Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed that states cannot place an “undue burden” on those seeking an abortion.

The challenged provisions are often known as the “admitting privileges requirement”—which requires the physician performing the abortion to have active admitting privileges at a nearby hospital—and the “surgical-center requirement”—which requires abortion facilities to meet ambulatory surgical center standards. While the Supreme Court’s ruling applied to Texas’ law, specifically, this ruling may impact a series of laws that also include these two provisions.

Ten states (AL, KS, LA, MS, OK, WI, MO, ND, TN, and UT) passed laws that involve an admitting privileges requirement. Most of those laws have been passed since 2011 and require those who perform abortions at clinics to have admitting privileges to a hospital no more than thirty miles away. Some states specify fifteen miles while other states specify fifteen minutes.

However, admitting privileges requirements in Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin have been overturned by lower courts.

Several states, including Michigan and Tennessee, have laws with surgical-center requirements that are similar to the one in TX HB 2, while many others have slightly differing surgical-center requirements.

Whole Woman’s Health, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case regarding TX HB 2, published a document that outlines the differences between licensed abortion clinic requirements and ambulatory surgical center requirements. Some of the differences include larger surgery rooms and hallways, safety codes, a back-up generator, and janitor closets.

Proponents, such as Congressman Jody Hice (R-GA) and Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA) and  say that these restrictions make abortions safer, but opponents, including Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL) and Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), argue that the provisions are unnecessary and have no medical basis. Some opponents even claim that such legislation drives women to have unsafe abortions.

While these are two common trends in abortion regulation, there are several other prominent provisions:

  • Mandatory Waiting Periods - In 2015, Florida and Tennessee passed bills requiring waiting periods between the initial counseling or consultation and the abortion procedure of 24 and 48 hours, respectively;

  • Prohibition of Abortions after Twenty Weeks - South Carolina and Wisconsin recently passed bills that prohibit abortions after 20 weeks, unless the pregnant person suffers from a life-threatening complication;

  • Dilation and Evacuation Bans - D&E is a common form of second-trimester abortion. D&E was recently banned in Alabama and Kansas;

  • Prohibition of Abortion Based on the Fetus’ Race/Sex/Disability - Indiana recently passed a bill prohibiting abortions when the parent is seeking one because of race, sex, or potential disability (such as Down syndrome), which has since been overturned; and

  • Coercion of Pregnant Individuals Ban - Michigan recently passed a bill prohibiting individuals from coercing pregnant individuals to have an abortion.

While most abortion legislation is advocated for by the Pro-Life movement, there are cases of Pro-Choice legislation. For instance, New Hampshire established “buffer zones” around abortion clinics in 2014. These 25-foot zones prevent anyone who is not an employee or patient from remaining in or around the clinic.

However, buffer zone laws have a history of being challenged in courts—in 2014 a Massachusetts law requiring a 35-foot buffer zone was struck down by the Supreme Court—and thus the New Hampshire law has not been enforced as the state has waited for it to traverse through the court system.

If you are interested in learning more, please explore our website, especially our Public Statements section, to see what your Congressmen have to say about this issue, and our Legislation section, to see what recent votes have taken place on abortion legislation.

By Malia Hamilton, Key Votes Intern

Malia Hamilton recently graduated from The University of Texas at Austin and is currently interning at Vote Smart. She hopes to attend graduate school and pursue a Masters of International Affairs within the next few years. For more information on internship opportunities with Vote Smart, contact us at or by calling 1-888-VOTE-SMART.


Related tags: abortion, abortion-legislation, admitting-privileges, blog, health

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