WASHINGTON, United States (UPDATED) – The US Supreme Court on Monday, June 27, struck down a Texas law placing a raft of restrictions on abortion clinics, handing a major victory to the "pro-choice" camp in the country's most important abortion case in a generation.
In a case with far-reaching implications for millions of women across the United States, the court ruled 5-3 to strike down measures which activists say have forced more than half of Texas's abortion clinics to close.
In a sign of the passions aroused by the deeply divisive issue, crowds massed outside the court in anticipation of the ruling.
"The burden is undue," read the placards held up by pro-choice activists – while alongside them abortion opponents rallied under the slogan: "I am the pro-life generation."
Under the Texas legislation, doctors who perform abortions are required to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and their clinics must meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center.
Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, said "we conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes."
The court ruled that both provisions placed "a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion" that "each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access" and "each violates the Federal Constitution."
The Texas rules meant that hundreds of thousands of women were or would be forced to seek abortion services far from their homes and face a weeks-long wait, while clinics struggle with strict requirements and costly upgrades.
Activists had sounded the alarm over moves to enact similar laws in other states, that would have received a major boost from a Supreme Court ruling in Texas's favor.
With the death of stalwart conservative Antonin Scalia, the court is evenly split between conservatives and liberals -- and the eight justices had appeared sharply divided over whether the Texas law aimed to protect women's health or to restrict access to the procedure.
The decision ultimately hinged on the swing vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who sided with his liberal colleagues in opposing the 2013 Texas law.
Kennedy helped draft a ruling 24 years ago that struck down state restrictions imposing an "undue burden" on a women seeking an abortion.
During hearings on the Texas case, Kennedy had raised a number of concerns about the law – noting that its restrictions and associated delays were increasing the number of surgical abortions and decreasing those induced by medication.
The ruling has the potential to reshape constitutional standards on abortion in the middle of an election year, making it an instant hot topic on the campaign trail.
The American Civil Liberties Union hailed the ruling, tweeting: "Supreme Court decides that a right without access is not a right. – Rappler.com