A victory for the role of evidence in reproductive health care

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was a victory for the role of scientific evidence in the US debates about abortion. The decision strikes down two provisions of a Texas law (HB2) that would have compromised women’s access to safe abortion care by requiring providers to obtain hospital admitting privileges and meet stringent specifications to become ambulatory surgical centers (ASC)—essentially a mini-hospital.

Admitting privileges

The Court found no evidence that requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges “advanced Texas’ legitimate interest in protecting women’s health.” In fact, the evidence clearly showed that:

  • Abortion is a safe medical procedure. Complications from abortion are so rare that providers would be unable maintain hospital admitting privileges because they would rarely have patients to admit.
  • The admitting privileges requirement led to the closure of about half of abortion facilities in Texas. These closures meant fewer providers and longer wait times. They also meant longer distances to travel, with 400,000 women living more than 150 miles from a provider.

ASC requirements

There also is considerable evidence that requiring abortion facilities to meet ASC requirements “does not benefit patients and is not necessary.” The research showed that:

  • Abortions performed in a variety of settings—including doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals—are safe. Safer, in fact, than numerous other procedures that take place outside hospitals.
  • It is not any safer for women to have abortions at an ASC, and women will not receive better care or have better health outcomes at an ASC.
  • The ASC requirement does not address possible complications from medication abortion because any possible complications would almost always occur after the patient has left the facility.

Evidence was front-and-center in the Court’s decision, which clearly outlines the rigorous research proving that these restrictions were medically unnecessary, created significant obstacles for women and violated the Constitution. Beyond providing no health benefits, the evidence showed that the requirements would have been paradoxically harmful to women’s health. With this decision, the Court has also blocked implementation of similar abortion restrictions in Mississippi and Wisconsin. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her concurring opinion, "Given those realities, it is beyond rational belief that HB2 could genuinely protect the health of women."

Photo credit: Center for Reproductive Rights