February 17, 2016
In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court kept abortion legal but said states could regulate it in the interest of protecting life, as long as rules didn’t impose an “undue burden” on a woman’s constitutional right to choose the procedure. That led to ongoing political, legal and moral fights over how far states can go in protecting the unborn.
But what if states, in the name of protecting maternal health, end up restricting women’s access to legal abortions?
Yale Law Professor Reva Siegel says states can’t do that. The Supreme Court is poised to issue its own answer this year in a Texas case decided in June by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge appellate panel in June largely upheld Texas’ law, though the Supreme Court stopped it from being enforced while the justices review it.
The public can hear Siegel explain her reasoning at Tulane Law School Feb. 22 during the Dermot S. McGlinchey Lecture on Federal Litigation. The lecture is set for 5 p.m. in the Wendell H. Gauthier Appellate Moot Court Room 110 of Tulane Law’s Weinmann Hall.
Siegel’s premise is that the Supreme Court’s abortion rulings let government “express respect for the dignity of human life by means that respect the dignity of women.” But because the Texas regulations and others like them result in abortion clinics closing, without actual health-related justification, they “violate the principle at the core of the Supreme Court’s protection for the right to abortion.”
The Texas law, adopted in 2013, mainly requires that abortion clinics meet the medical standards of surgical facilities and that physicians at those clinics have admitting privileges at a hospital with 30 miles. Texas officials argue that the regulations advance a vital state interest and protect women. Opponents say the rules are “regulatory red tape” that don’t promote safety but would leave Texas with only 10 abortion clinics, requiring some women to travel hundreds of miles to find one.
The Texas case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, No. 15-274, is scheduled for argument March 2. A separate case is pending before the justices involving similar rules in Mississippi that would close that state’s only abortion clinic.
Siegel, the Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Professor of Law at Yale Law School, has written frequently about constitutional issues, including reproductive rights and racial equality. She uses legal history to explore questions of law and inequality and to analyze how courts interact with representative government and popular movements in interpreting the U.S. Constitution.
The McGlinchey Lecture, established in 1996, is permanently endowed and sponsored by the McGlinchey Stafford firm to honor its late co-founder Dermot S. McGlinchey (L ’57). A loyal Tulanian, McGlinchey also was devoted to promoting equal access to the courts. McGlinchey Stafford has more than 190 attorneys working in 13 offices in eight states and Washington, D.C.