By Matt Kuhrt
The future of rural abortion clinics in the state of Texas is now in the hands of the Supreme Court.
The combination of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's unexpected death and deep divides among the remaining eight justices raises questions about the practical effect a potential ruling could have on those Texas clinics and the capability of remaining clinics to pick up the slack, reports The New York Times.
The Texas law in question calls for clinics that perform abortions to meet the same standards as "ambulatory surgical centers," and requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The central legal issue in the case, according to the Times, revolves around the concept of an "undue burden" preventing women from seeking abortions, a precedent set in the court's opinion issued in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA. v. Casey.
The clinics challenging the law argue that it has the practical effect of restricting abortion access, particularly in rural areas of the state. Rural areas face physician shortages and difficulties created by limitations on scope of practice for non-physician practitioners, as FiercePracticeManagement has reported. In this vein, Justice Elena Kagan laid out statistics suggesting the number of women in Texas living more than 200 miles from an abortion clinic would rise from "10,000 to three-quarters of a million," according to the Times account.
Whether the remaining clinics would be able to handle the estimated 65,000 to 70,000 abortions provided by the lost clinics is unclear. Per court arguments, statistics show that the remaining clinics performed about 14,000 abortions per year previously, though Scott A. Keller, arguing for Texas, suggested that the ability of a clinic in Houston to perform 9,000 abortions per year provided reason to believe that "those remaining facilities would suffice to meet the demand for abortions."
The number of clinics likely to close as a result of the law remains in flux as well. The Times reports that lifting a temporary stay issued by the court in June could potentially cause the closure of an additional 10 clinics.