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SCOTUS in the Classroom Case #2: Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt

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SCOTUS in the Classroom Case #2: Whole Woman

During the 2015–16 term, Street Law will select three of the most classroom-relevant, student-friendly cases being argued in the U.S. Supreme Court and provide teachers with everything they need to conduct moot courts of each. Our first case was Fisher v. University of Texas. Our Winter Case will be Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt —being argued on March 2!

Guaranteed to be one of the most newsworthy cases of the term, Whole Woman’s Health is a challenge to a Texas law restricting abortions. Teachers might remember the legislative process of enacting this law (HB 2) because state senator Wendy Davis famously filibustered it in the Texas Capitol. This spring, the Court will review two provisions of the law: one requiring physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital no more than 30 miles from the clinic, and one requiring abortion clinics to have facilities equal to an outpatient surgical center. Proponents of the law say these are common sense ways to protect women’s health, while opponents argue that they will close 75% of the abortion facilities in the state without positively impacting women’s health. Previous Supreme Court rulings have held that the government cannot impose “undue burdens” on women seeking abortions—the government cannot create or intend to create a “substantial obstacle” to seeking an abortion early in a pregnancy. The Court has never really defined “undue burden,” however. Several other states, including Mississippi, Wisconsin, Louisiana, and Alabama have similar laws, so the impact of the Court’s ruling is likely to reach beyond Texas.

This case provides a good platform for bringing a perennially controversial issue into the classroom and creating well-informed and reasonable discussion based on the contours of the court case and the legal arguments offered by both sides. It provides a venue for teaching about key precedents (including Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey), and about competing methods for interpreting the Constitution.

The case will be argued on March 2, 2016, and Street Law will post case materials by February 17 on the SCOTUS in the Classroom program page. Teachers and students are encouraged to hold moot courts of the case the same week that the Supreme Court hears argument, which means students can follow discussion and analysis in the news and listen to or read a transcript of the actual oral arguments at the Court. 

Learn more

Supreme Court Summer Institute for Teachers

SCOTUS in the Classroom

Teaching for Civic Engagement