DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – In the biggest abortion case in nearly 25 years, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down Texas abortion regulations which had been widely replicated. The eight justices voted 5-3 in favor of Texas clinics which protested the regulations as a thinly veiled attempt to make it harder for women to get an abortion.
Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion for the court held that those regulations put into place by the country’s second-most populous state are medically unnecessary and unconstitutionally limit a woman’s right to an abortion.
Texas argued that its 2013 law and subsequent regulations were needed to protect women’s health. The rules required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and forced clinics to meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery.
After the decision was announced, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called it “a devastating blow to the protection of the health and safety of women in Texas.”
The law had already cut the number of Texas abortion providers in half, to roughly 20. Fewer than 10 would have remained if the 2013 law were allowed to take full effect. Clinics in the DFW area were not at risk of closing, but those in rural areas were, such as West Texas and along the Mexican border.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton online called the court’s decision “a victory for women in Texas and across America. Safe abortion should be a right — not just on paper, but in reality.”
With the regulations struck down, additional clinics may now be allowed to open across Texas. “Now,” Patrick said, “abortion clinics are free to ignore these basic safety standards and continue practicing under substandard conditions. By its ruling, the Court held that the ability of abortion clinics to remain open — even under substandard conditions — outweighs the state’s ability to put women’s health and safety first.”
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn added, “Today’s ruling sets a dangerous precedent for states like Texas, which the Constitution makes clear should be free to pass laws that are in the best interests of our citizens. Common sense requirements that abortion clinics be held to the same standards as other medical facilities put the health of the patient first, and today’s decision is a step back in protecting the well-being of mothers across our state.”
Even officials with the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth weighed in on the issue Monday. “This is a sad day for women’s health, for the basic right to life and for the right to safe medical procedures,” stated Bishop Michael Olson. “The U.S Supreme Court today placed financial interests above such basic health and safety standards like adequate staffing and sanitary conditions.”
“We will continue to pray for the promotion of a culture of life, including women’s safety,” Olson added.
Wendy Davis says she burst into tears after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the Texas abortion law that the former Democratic state senator once temporarily blocked with an 11-hour filibuster in 2013.
Davis said Monday she viewed the 5-3 decision as the justices shutting down future efforts by Republican-controlled states to impose what she called “sham laws” on abortion providers. She also says that abortion services in some underserved Texas areas could return over the next six months.
Davis became a national political star after her filibuster on floor of the Texas Senate in running shoes temporarily derailed the law. She was cheered on by thousands of abortion-rights supporters and unsuccessfully ran for governor a year later.
The abortion case was one of three issues remaining after a flurry of decisions last week. The justices handed down five rulings on Thursday, including two cases that ended in 4-4 ties. With these rulings, the U.S. Supreme closed out its current term and the justices dispersed on summer breaks.
Just eight justices took part Monday following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia back in February. President Barack Obama has nominated federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland to take Scalia’s place, but Garland has not yet received a hearing or vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Retirements are often announced in late June, but voluntary departures from the court almost never happen in election years.
(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)