United Church of Christ activists are surprised, but joyful, about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to strike down a Texas abortion access law that would have closed more than 75 percent of the clinics in the state by imposing unnecessary restrictions. The June 27 ruling in the case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt is considered the most significant decision on abortion rights in decades, and is a victory for pro-choice advocates throughout the country.
"As a longtime advocate for women's reproductive health, and now as the general minister and president of a denomination whose longstanding support for the same is deep and rich, I celebrate this decision," said the Rev. John Dorhauer. "I recognize it as a crucial victory in the ongoing battle to protect a woman's constitutional right to maintain control of her body and her reproductive health."
The case challenged a Texas law that would have closed the majority of the state's abortion clinics by requiring them to have surgical facilities and doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. While state leaders said the provisions would protect a woman's safety, opponents of the law said the restrictions would block three-quarters of the state's clinics from providing abortion services in a state with 5.4 million women of reproductive age. The 5-3 ruling is the most significant decision from the Supreme Court on abortion in two decades and could serve to deter other states from passing so-called "clinic shutdown" laws.
"There was no significant health-related problem that the new law helped to cure," wrote Justice Stephen Breyer in the majority opinion. "We agree with the District Court that the surgical-center requirement, like the admitting-privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an "undue burden" on their constitutional right to do so."
The Court heard the oral arguments on March 2, and UCC leaders joined people of faith and the religious community to rally for the reproductive rights of women and to urge the eight justices to protect abortion access. Dorhauer was one of 1,300 faith leaders to sign an amicus brief that argued that "many religious traditions recognize and support the moral right of each woman to make her own decisions about her pregnancy in accordance with her faith and conscience."
"Today's decision to uphold a woman's right to decide what is best for her health is a foundational principle of freedom," said the Rev. Traci Blackmon, acting executive minister of UCC's Justice & Witness Ministries. "As long as this even remains a question, we will be here supporting a woman's right to choose."
"We don't ever take such victories for granted, as opponents of women's rights have been finding more and more ways to dismantle the constitutional protection afforded women," Dorhauer said. "Nor should we let this victory deter us from our vigilance – attacks against a woman's right to advocate for her health will keep coming. The United Church of Christ will be there when they do."