The Supreme Court appeared deeply divided Wednesday over the most far-reaching abortion rights case it has considered in a generation, with the fate of abortion restrictions in many states on the line.
The court’s four liberal justices left little doubt they would vote to strike down a Texas law imposing tight regulations on abortion clinics and doctors, so the eight-member court — depleted by the death last month ofJustice Antonin Scalia — almost certainly cannot issue a decision establishing a national precedent that would set tougher standards for abortion clinics coast to coast.
But it seemed possible that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who likely holds the deciding vote, would seek to have the case returned to Texas for additional fact-finding, delaying any decision until next year at the earliest. That could include whether the law’s restrictions were responsible for shuttering up to 20 clinics and whether the few that remain open can handle the statewide demand for abortions.
If the case is not sent back but is decided on its merits, it seemed more likely that Kennedy would join the liberals in ruling that the law places an undue burden on abortion access without serving a legitimate medical purpose. Such a sweeping decision, which likely would be issued in late June, could impact states with similar laws.