State Supreme Court puts abortion ideology above logicHouston Chronicle Editorial
Although Texas elects its judges and justices in partisan elections, there is no such thing as Democratic justice or Republican justice. However, a decision by the Texas Supreme Court this week shows that partisan injustice can be a stark reality.
In an 8-0 decision, the Republican justices of the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the state could decline to fund medically necessary abortions for indigent women covered by Medicaid. The ruling overturned a finding by a midlevel appeals court that denying needed medical help only to poor women violated the Equal Rights Amendment of the Texas Constitution.
Outgoing Justice Deborah Hankinson, regarded by many as the least ideological member of the high court, did not participate.
Justice Harriet O'Neill was assigned by lottery to write the Texas Supreme Court's opinion. To her fell the shameful task of trying to make the Texas Constitution conform to the Republican Party platform's opposition to women's right to choose abortion, even when necessary to protect their health.
In her opinion, O'Neill states that the plaintiffs - the low-income women of Texas and several doctors and clinics that serve them - failed to demonstrate their case: that the ban against paying for abortions with state funds "reflects a purpose to discriminate because of sex." She ignores the plain fact of discrimination and outright abuse, intended or not.
The court's opinion holds that the law allows disproportionate impact, but there is no proportion in this case. The ban on spending state funds for necessary medical treatment not funded by the federal government affects only poor women who need an abortion before getting treatment for their cancer and/or other illness.
O'Neill further argues that a law that damages the interests of women is permitted, so long as it is not aimed at women. Who else would a ban that (aside from unproved therapies) affects only abortion funding be aimed at?
By the court's twisted logic, any discrimination against women and minorities would be constitutional so long as it were accidental, coincidental or the result of indifference, incompetence or prejudice disguised as something else.
This is the same nonsensical argument - national defense trumps equal rights - that Sen. Trent Lott used to justify his fondness for Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist campaign. The dodge was beneath Lott's dignity and should have been beneath the dignity of the Texas Supreme Court.
O'Neill writes that because Medicaid in Texas covers some medical treatments related to pregnancy, it needn't cover them all. Would she argue that if the state upholds some of the rights and benefits the law grants to citizens, it can rightly ignore others?
O'Neill drags in several U.S. Supreme Court rulings to support her position, but because there is no federal Equal Rights Amendment, the federal court's rulings are barely relevant to - and certainly do not determine - the meaning and application of the Texas Equal Rights Amendment. Her opinion speaks of the state's interest in the unborn, but it ignores the human duty to ease the suffering of the living and fails to cite the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, which outlawed Texas' ban on abortion.
Among the Texas Supreme Court's unanimous majority in this latest abortion case is Justice Priscilla Owen . The court's ruling in this case is exactly the sort of tortured jurisprudence that caused Democrats on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to reject President Bush's nomination of Owen to be a justice on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Texas may be saddled with justices who elevate partisan ideology above law and logic, but justice and reason should discourage their infliction on the nation.