Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, 062716 FEDSC, 15-274

Docket Nº:15-274
Judge Panel:BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which KENNEDY, GlNSBURG, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. GlNSBURG, J., filed a concurring opinion. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion. ALITO, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and THOMAS, J., joined. GlNSBURG, J., co...
Case Date:June 27, 2016
Court:United States Supreme Court




No. 15-274

United States Supreme Court

June 27, 2016

Argued March 2, 2016

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT A "State has a legitimate interest in seeing to it that abortion ... is performed under circumstances that insure maximum safety for the patient." Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 150. But "a statute which, while furthering [a] valid state interest, has the effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman's choice cannot be considered a permissible means of serving its legitimate ends, " Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 877 (plurality opinion), and "[unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion impose an undue burden on the right, " id., at 878.

In 2013, the Texas Legislature enacted House Bill 2 (H. B. 2), which contains the two provisions challenged here. The "admitting-privileges requirement" provides that a "physician performing or inducing an abortion . . . must, on the date [of service], have active admitting privileges at a hospital . . . located not further than 30 miles from the" abortion facility. The "surgical-center requirement" requires an "abortion facility" to meet the "minimum standards . . . for ambulatory surgical centers" under Texas law. Before the law took effect, a group of Texas abortion providers filed the Abbott case, in which they lost a facial challenge to the constitutionality of the ad-mitting-privileges provision. After the law went into effect, petitioners, another group of abortion providers (including some Abbott plaintiffs), filed this suit, claiming that both the admitting-privileges and the surgical-center provisions violated the Fourteenth Amendment, as interpreted in Casey. They sought injunctions preventing enforcement of the admitting-privileges provision as applied to physicians at one abortion facility in McAllen and one in El Paso and prohibiting enforcement of the surgical-center provision throughout Texas.

Based on the parties' stipulations, expert depositions, and expert and other trial testimony, the District Court made extensive findings, including, but not limited to: as the admitting-privileges requirement began to be enforced, the number of facilities providing abortions dropped in half, from about 40 to about 20; this decrease in geographical distribution means that the number of women of reproductive age living more than 50 miles from a clinic has doubled, the number living more than 100 miles away has increased by 150%, the number living more than 150 miles away by more than 350%, and the number living more than 200 miles away by about 2, 800%; the number of facilities would drop to seven or eight if the surgical-center provision took effect, and those remaining facilities would see a significant increase in patient traffic; facilities would remain only in five metropolitan areas; before H. B. 2's passage, abortion was an extremely safe procedure with very low rates of complications and virtually no deaths; it was also safer than many more common procedures not subject to the same level of regulation; and the cost of compliance with the surgical-center requirement would most likely exceed $1.5 million to $3 million per clinic. The court enjoined enforcement of the provisions, holding that the surgical-center requirement imposed an undue burden on the right of women in Texas to seek previability abortions; that, together with that requirement, the admitting-privileges requirement imposed an undue burden in the Rio Grande Valley, El Paso, and West Texas; and that the provisions together created an "impermissible obstacle as applied to all women seeking a previability abortion."

The Fifth Circuit reversed in significant part. It concluded that res judicata barred the District Court from holding the admitting-privileges requirement unconstitutional statewide and that res judicata also barred the challenge to the surgical-center provision. Reasoning that a law is "constitutional if (1) it does not have the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus and (2) it is reasonably related to ... a legitimate state interest, " the court found that both requirements were rationally related to a compelling state interest in protecting women's health.


1. Petitioners' constitutional claims are not barred by res judicata. Pp. 10-18.

(a) Res judicata neither bars petitioners' challenges to the admitting-privileges requirement nor prevents the Court from awarding facial relief. The fact that several petitioners had previously brought the unsuccessful facial challenge in Abbott does not mean that claim preclusion, the relevant aspect of res judicata, applies. Claim preclusion prohibits "successive litigation of the very same claim, " New Hampshire v. Maine, 532 U.S. 742, 748, but petitioners' as-applied postenforcement challenge and the Abbott plaintiffs' facial preenforcement challenge do not present the same claim. Changed circumstances showing that a constitutional harm is concrete may give rise to a new claim. Abbott rested upon facts and evidence presented before enforcement of the admitting-privileges requirement began, when it was unclear how clinics would be affected. This case rests upon later, concrete factual developments that occurred once enforcement started and a significant number of clinics closed.

Res judicata also does not preclude facial relief here. In addition to requesting as-applied relief, petitioners asked for other appropriate relief, and their evidence and arguments convinced the District Court of the provision's unconstitutionality across the board. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(c) provides that a "final judgment should grant the relief to which each party is entitled, even if the party has not demanded that relief in its pleadings, " and this Court has held that if the arguments and evidence show that a statutory provision is unconstitutional on its face, an injunction prohibiting its enforcement is "proper, " Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm'n, 558 U.S. 310, 333. Pp. 10-15.

(b) Claim preclusion also does not bar petitioners' challenge to the surgical-center requirement. In concluding that petitioners should have raised this claim in Abbott, the Fifth Circuit did not take account of the fact that the surgical-center provision and the admitting-privileges provision are separate provisions with two different and independent regulatory requirements. Challenges to distinct regulatory requirements are ordinarily treated as distinct claims. Moreover, the surgical-center provision's implementing regulations had not even been promulgated at the time Abbott was filed, and the relevant factual circumstances changed between the two suits. Pp. 16-18.

2. Both the admitting-privileges and the surgical-center requirements place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violate the Constitution. Pp. 19-39.

(a) The Fifth Circuit's standard of review may be read to imply that a district court should not consider the existence or nonexistence of medical benefits when deciding the undue burden question, but Casey requires courts to consider the burdens a law imposes on abortion access together with the benefits those laws confer, see 505 U.S., at 887-898. The Fifth Circuit's test also mistakenly equates the judicial review applicable to the regulation of a constitutionally protected personal liberty with the less strict review applicable to, e.g., economic legislation. And the court's requirement that legislatures resolve questions of medical uncertainty is inconsistent with this Court's case law, which has placed considerable weight upon evidence and argument presented in judicial proceedings when determining the constitutionality of laws regulating abortion procedures. See id., at 888-894. Explicit legislative findings must be considered, but there were no such findings in H. B. 2. The District Court applied the correct legal standard here, considering the evidence in the record- including expert evidence-and then weighing the asserted benefits against the burdens. Pp. 19-21.

(b) The record contains adequate legal and factual support for the District Court's conclusion that the admitting-privileges requirement imposes an "undue burden" on a woman's right to choose. The requirement's purpose is to help ensure that women have easy access to a hospital should complications arise during an abortion procedure, but the District Court, relying on evidence showing extremely low rates of serious complications...

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