In an interview with Boston Public Radio on Monday, Attorney General Maura Healey described the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn limits to access to abortion as “a victory for civil rights” and “a victory for women’s healthcare.”
In 1973, landmark Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade ruled that the Due Process Clause of the 14th amendment extended to abortion, up until the third trimester of pregnancy. This decision rocked the nation—legalizing abortion on a federal level and knocking out state laws that blocked a woman’s right to choose.
That is, until states began to implement a slew of newer, smaller laws, effectively preventing abortion without prohibiting abortion itself. Since 2010, state legislatures have passed nearly 300 legal restrictions, known as TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers). These laws, promoted as women's health initiatives, mandate that abortion clinics follow regulations well beyond standard medical guidelines, ranging from the width of hallways in clinics to a requirement that physicians only perform abortions in ambulatory surgical centers, which cost nearly $1 million to build.
Since 2011, due to TRAP laws, 162 clinics have closed. In Texas, these laws shuttered all but a handful of abortion clinics, forcing women to seek medical care elsewhere, often traveling long distances, taking expensive trips, or finding no feasible option for medical abortion within their means. “Over the last many years, we have seen women’s access to healthcare under siege,” Healey said. “Specifically, women’s access to abortions. What happened in Texas is, a few years ago, they passed a law that had the effect of shutting down 75 percent of the facilities that provide abortions, by imposing a lot of onerous requirements.”
Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that provisions placed upon abortion providers in Texas did not offer “medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes” —in other words, TRAP laws, created by state legislatures, are making it too hard for people seeking abortions to exercise their constitutional rights. “This isn’t just an issue of women’s ability to access healthcare in terms of their own prerogative to exercise personal autonomy and the freedom to make healthcare decisions and choices of their own,” Healey said. “It also fundamentally goes to the economic viability and livelihood of an individual. That is lost, too often, in this conversation and in divisive rhetoric.”
According to Healey, this decision is a win for women’s health, which often gets overlooked or used as a pawn in political battles. “Women’s health has always been used as a political football in Washington, and certainly in any number of state legislatures across this country,” Healey said. “I am really thrilled today to see a strike for women’s access to healthcare. It’s absolutely the right call.”
The decision could reflect across the country and target TRAP laws affecting abortion clinics nationally, Healey said. Until then, these laws are still in place in many states across the nation. “The reality is, we need continued, viligant, persistent advocacy on the issue of women’s access to reproductive healthcare, because it is always, unfortunately, on the table, and there are always forces looking to cut back on women’s access to healthcare,” she said. “But this is a good day, make no mistake about it, and the advocacy and the work needs to continue.”
Maura Healey is the Attorney General of Massachusetts. To hear her full interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio link above.