At one point during the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt oral arguments on Wednesday, Justice Stephen Breyer asked a question that strikes at the heart of the trade-off Texas women and doctors face.
“If you suddenly had at least 10,000 … women who have to travel 150 miles to get their abortions,” he said, “are there going to be more women or fewer women who die of complications?”
In other words, Texas can either have state-of-the-art, hospital-like abortion clinics that meet the strict requirements laid out in House Bill 2, the 2013 law that sparked the case, and have fewer of these clinics overall. Or, it can have a greater number of modest facilities—ones providers say are more than adequate—that are easily reachable by most.
The two sides of this case have not just two very different views of abortion, but also different takes on the existing abortion landscape in Texas. The briefs filed for the state suggest that abortion clinics are a lawless frontier in which reckless doctors operate on frightened women and dump them in hospital ERs if anything goes wrong. The plaintiffs, meanwhile, say abortion is already very safe—much safer than childbirth and any number of other procedures. They believe tales of botched abortions are overblown by pro-lifers as a propaganda tactic, that the requirements for their clinics have no medical purpose, and that the real intent of the law is to make abortion more difficult to access.