A Texas abortion access law was thrown out of the Supreme Court in a dramatic ruling Monday culminating a victory for pro-abortion rights activists who argued it would have shut down all but a handful of state clinics available to women seeking the procedure.
Not only was this 5-3 ruling the most significant decision from the Supreme Court on abortion in two decades, but it could also deter other states from passing any so-called, "clinic shutdown" laws.
Siding with the liberal justices, perennial swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy helped deliver a victory for abortion rights activists and signalled that the court may be unswayed by the political pressure surrounding the current presidential election, or by the empty seat on the bench left by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
"There was no significant health-related problem that the new law helped to cure," Breyer wrote. "We agree with the District Court that the surgical-center requirement, like the admitting-privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an "undue burden" on their constitutional right to do so."
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion, which was joined in full by Kennedy, despite arguments that the restrictions were designed to protect women's health. The SCOTUS determined that this measure really only amounted to burdening women who seek abortions.
"When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners, faute de mieux, at great risk to their health and safety," she wrote.
Joined Breyer's opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a brief concurring opinion focusing on what she deemed, “women in desperate circumstances."
The fate of the Supreme Court has been front-and-center after the death of Justice Scalia in February, and this ruling is expected to have reverberations on the presidential election. Refusing to act on President Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, the Senate Republicans have left the court with only eight justices.
President Obama said he is "pleased" by the ruling,
"We remain strongly committed to the protection of women's health, including protecting a woman's access to safe, affordable health care and her right to determine her own future, the President said.
However, Monday's ruling signals that the court could still champion a five-justice majority that could rule against abortion restrictionsin any scenario, regardless of who gets to choose the next Supreme Court justice.