The Supreme Court issued its most important abortion decision in a generation Monday, striking down one of the most restrictive state laws in the country and opening the door to legal challenges of many others.

Twenty-four years after Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the court permitted states to pass laws restricting abortion as long as they did not put an “undue burden” on the women seeking the procedure, the pendulum has swung the other way.

On the surface, the decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt shoots down two parts of a Texas law that would have cut in half the number of abortion clinics in the state by imposing expensive regulatory requirements on facilities and physicians. But more importantly, the court ruled that states cannot use professed concern for women’s health as a shield to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights.

The five-vote majority opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer will have an immediate impact in Texas, but it could also affect similar bans in Louisiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin, which are experiencing their own self-inflicted access shortage. And the doctrine could be applied to other abortion restrictions, such as waiting periods, scripted “counseling” and mandatory ultrasound laws designed to delay an abortion until a woman changes her mind or it’s too late for her to get one.

In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed a bill that required abortion clinics to be regulated as ambulatory surgical centers, and abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals – ostensibly to ensure better care for patients in case of serious complications. While protecting women’s health sounds like a noble goal, it was clear that there was something else behind the concern.

No matter where you stand in the abortion debate, you cannot dispute that it is already a very safe procedure without any new laws. A 2014 study by University of California researchers reported that fewer than 2 percent of abortions resulted in any complications, far less than the complication rate for wisdom tooth extractions (7 percent) or for tonsillectomies (9 percent).

Only two-tenths of 1 percent of abortions in the study resulted in major complications (requiring surgery or a blood transfusion), compared with the 0.35 percent serious complication rate for colonoscopies. But no special laws are being passed to guarantee the safety of colonoscopies or tooth extractions.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said there had to be something other than a concern for women’s health behind the Texas law because it would have made abortions much more risky, not more safe.

“It is beyond rational belief that (the law) could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions,” Ginsburg wrote. “When a state severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners … at great risk to their health and safety.”

By striking down this and other similar laws, the court has done a great service. Regardless of which state they call home, women have the right to make medical decisions about their own bodies, and state governments should not be allowed to interfere.

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