the Beacon Journal editorial board

Republicans in charge at the Statehouse now must move quickly to remove obstacles they have erected to limit abortion rights. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, firmly and correctly, that such measures place an “undue burden” on women who are seeking what the law allows and what they have determined is best at that point in their lives.

The court established the “undue burden” standard in its landmark Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision in 1992. It included among the burdens “unnecessary health regulations.” Which is just what the 5-3 majority found this week in striking down two requirements enacted by Texas lawmakers.

The first required all abortion clinics to meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers. The second established that doctors performing abortions must have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Advocates for the regulations long have argued that the requirements make abortions safer for women.

Yet when the court looked, it could find little evidence for such claims. Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer noted that before Texas lawmakers acted, abortions in the state were “extremely safe with particularly low rates of serious complications and virtually no deaths. … ”

In her brief concurring opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that “many medical procedures, including childbirth, are far more dangerous to patients yet are not subject to ambulatory-surgical-center or hospital admitting-privileges requirements.”

What is the purpose, then? To all but deny access to legal abortions for many women. The likelihood is that the Texas law would reduce the number of abortion clinics in the state from 40 to roughly 10. Some women would face driving much long distances to a provider.

As Justice Ginsburg added, when states erect such limitations, “women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners.” In other words, one result of these requirements is to make abortions less safe.

Ohio has seen the closing of nearly half of the abortion clinics here. The state has virtually the same regulation for licensing abortion clinics as ambulatory surgical centers. It also has something that Texas does not: a requirement that abortion clinics reach transfer agreements with nearby hospitals.

The law bars public hospitals from entering such agreements. Thus, abortion clinics have strained to comply, even stay open. The rule reflects precisely what troubles the court majority. It isn’t about patient safety. In the event of an emergency, an ambulance would rush the patient to the nearest hospital.

So, Ohio lawmakers have work to do, along with their counterparts in two dozen other states with Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, or TRAP laws. They must remove unnecessary transfer agreement and ambulatory surgical center standards. The Supreme Court, in a defining opinion, has held that such steps represent an “undue burden” on the right of women to make choices about the direction of their lives, including whether to have an abortion.