Legal Fights Over State Laws Offer Ample Chances for Supreme Court Intervention

November 13, 2013 — It is "only a matter of time" before the Supreme Court decides to hear one of several ongoing challenges to state-level abortion restrictions, USA Today reports.

According to USA Today, the high court likely will take such a case because lower courts have issued conflicting rulings over the laws. Some measures that could potentially reach the Supreme Court include restrictions on medication abortion, laws that ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, regulations on abortion clinics and requirements that women undergo certain tests or counseling prior to abortions.

The court already has agreed to review a law in Massachusetts that requires a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. Separately, justices in the next several weeks are expected to announce that they will consider a challenge to the federal contraceptive coverage rules, USA Today reports.

Both of those cases involve conservatives' challenges to laws that are designed to protect women's health, USA Today notes. By contrast, the cases pending in lower courts mainly involve states' attempts to restrict access to abortion.

If the Supreme Court opts to take one of the cases, it would offer the justices an opportunity to clarify the court's 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling, which upheld certain protections for abortion rights but granted states more leeway to restrict the procedure.

Potential Supreme Court Cases

Although the court recently rejected Oklahoma's appeal to reinstate two of its antiabortion-rights laws (HB 2780, HB 1970), it might review a contested Texas law (HB 2) that bans most medication abortions and requires physicians who provide abortions to have hospital admitting privileges.

The justices might also consider a contested 20-week abortion ban (HB 2036) in Arizona or a North Carolina case, according to USA Today.

Laws Ripe for Review, Observers Say

Jennifer Dalvin of the American Civil Liberties Union said, "If the court decides to take an abortion case, it could certainly use the case to further elaborate on the standard that should be applied to evaluate abortion restrictions."

Caitlin Borgmann, a City University of New York law professor who blogs about reproductive rights, said, "It's a pivotal moment," adding, "The restrictions are now getting to a point where they're actually shutting down clinics."

Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas involved with the Oklahoma case, said the "stakes have been ratcheted up" and are now "higher for both sides" (Wolf, USA Today, 11/12).