“Keep Your Eyes on Hellerstedt”

NARAL Editorial Piece

by Justine Schnitzler—NARAL Campus Representative, UNC-Chapel Hill


In 1973, Roe v. Wade legally consecrated a guaranteed right to terminate pregnancy through the first trimester, as an issue of privacy. Since the landmark Supreme Court decision, state legislatures have, with increasingly frequency, skirted the line set by Roe, passing laws and motions that seek to undermine the right to choose. In the last ten years, many of these have come in the form of TRAP laws—Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. These laws work to close abortion clinics and providers through backhanded means—including requiring clinics to have admitting privileges at local hospitals (a medically unnecessary requirement), with no law to ensure hospitals grant such privileges (1).

On March 2nd , 2016, the Supreme Court heard the beginning oral arguments for Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case that will have the potential to strengthen Roe—or, should the votes go the other way, allow states to close abortion providers through dishonest means, jeopardizing the care of thousands of people. Since 2013, nearly seventy-five percent of clinics have been forced to close in Texas as a result of these “undue burdens,” created through TRAP laws (2). In response, Whole Women’ Health of Texas sued to challenge H.B.2, Texas’ leading TRAP law currently in effect.


The Supreme Court docket describes the case as centering on “Whether, when applying the “undue burden” standard of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a court errs by refusing to consider whether and to what extent laws that restrict abortion for the stated purpose of promoting health actually serve the government’s interest in promoting health” (3). What good is Roe v. Wade if it exists in name only? Americans deserve the protected right to make decisions about their healthcare without shady interference of state courts and legislators. The second summarization of the case, made by the Supreme Court, further illuminates just how harmful TRAP laws are: “…whether the Fifth Circuit erred in concluding that this standard permits Texas to enforce, in nearly all circumstances, laws that would cause a significant reduction in the availability of abortion services while failing to advance the State’s interest in promoting health – or any other valid interest” (4).

While the ultimate decision rests in the hands of the Supreme Court, it is crucial that advocates of choice stay tuned in to the details and implications of this major court decision.


1 http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/what-is- choice/fast-facts/issues- trap.html

2 http://wholewomanshealth.com/about-us/whole- womans-health- v-hellerstedt.html

3 http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/whole- womans-health- v-cole/

4 http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/whole- womans-health- v-cole/