Supreme Court tackles tough Texas abortion law

WASHINGTON -- The biggest abortion case in a decade was argued Wednesday before the eight justices of the Supreme Court.

The case challenges a Texas law that imposes tough standards on abortion clinics. Supporters say the law protects patients.

It's the Court's first controversial case since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, but the questions from the justices were no less intense -- and reflected deep divisions.

Supreme Court hears major abortion case

Liberals appeared united that the new regulations raising standards for abortion clinics would force many to close, ultimately obstructing a woman's right to abortion for no good reason.

"...What it's about is that a woman has a fundamental right to make this choice for herself," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.

But conservatives asked where the evidence was that the law would in fact shut down that many clinics.

"...As to some of them, there's information that they closed for reasons that had nothing to do with this law," Justice Samuel Alito said.

Texas passed the law in 2013, amid national outcry over a Pennsylvania clinic, where a doctor was convicted of killing a patient and three infants in botched late-term abortions.

The law requires clinics to operate more like surgery centers and have doctors with admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Supreme Court case focuses attention anew on abortion in America

"Texas cares about our women. That's what this is all about: women's health and quality of care," said state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, who was a sponsor of the bill.

But Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of the abortion clinic challenging the law, said that was a smokescreen.

"This law is cruel, and it is harsh, and it does nothing to advance medical help for women," Hagstrom Miller said.

The key vote here, as in all abortion cases, is the moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy. He didn't tip his hand Wednesday, although he did ask whether the Court should send the case back for more evidence. And that would delay any decision until a new justice is in Scalia's seat.

  • Jan Crawford
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    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.