(Story updated at 2:11 p.m. ET)
The 5-3 decision could lead to changes in similar laws in other states, making it easier, in some cases, for women to get abortions.
The ruling won't stop attempts to limit abortion around the country, but it is a serious blow to those efforts, said Michael Dell, a partner at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel who filed a brief in the case on behalf of 10 women who've had abortions, siding with the abortion clinics.
As of March, five states required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at hospitals, and 22 states had licensing standards comparable to those for ambulatory surgical centers, according to the Guttmacher Institute (PDF), which works to advance sexual and reproductive health.
The decision won't automatically overturn those states' laws, but it provides guidance to courts that may handle future lawsuits over them, said Elizabeth Sepper, an associate professor of law at Washington University.
“Whole Woman's Health will open the door to challenging restrictions in a number of other states,” Sepper said.
She also praised the decision as a win for evidence-based medicine—for treating abortion like other medical procedures in attempting to provide high quality care at a low cost.
“This tremendous victory renews the promise of Roe v. Wade for the next generation,” said Nancy Northrop, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which brought the lawsuit with abortion clinics, during a call with reporters Monday.
In a statement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “It's exceedingly unfortunate that the court has taken the ability to protect women's health out of the hands of Texas citizens and their duly-elected representatives.”
The case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, focused on whether a Texas law unconstitutionally limits access to abortion by requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The law also demands that clinics meet the same standards as ambulatory surgery centers. The Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional Monday.
The abortion clinics that brought the case said the law (PDF) would lead to the closure of 75% of the state's abortion clinics, leaving some women hundreds of miles from services. The clinics argued that the procedure is already a relatively safe one, and the law's requirements are meant to limit access to abortion.
The state, however, said the law (PDF) was meant to protect the health of women who undergo the procedure. They said if the law took effect, every metropolitan area that now has an abortion clinic would still have one.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion Monday that any benefits of the requirements don't justify the burdens they impose.
“Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access … and each violates the Federal Constitution,” Breyer wrote.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “It is beyond rational belief that H.B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law 'would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.'”
Meanwhile, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a dissenting opinion that the majority bent the rules to make their decision in the case.
“The Court should abandon the pretense that anything other than policy preferences underlies its balancing of constitutional rights and interests in any given case,” Thomas wrote.
Thomas also joined Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts in a dissenting opinion in which Alito wrote, “The Court's patent refusal to apply well-established law in a neutral way is indefensible and will undermine public confidence in the Court as a fair and neutral arbiter.”
In the majority opinion, Breyer wrote that requiring abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers seemed unnecessary and unlikely to improve patient safety.
He noted that abortions at Texas clinics are safer than a number of other procedures also performed at facilities that don't have to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, including colonoscopies, liposuction and childbirth.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of the Whole Woman's Health, said in a call with reporters Monday that she was “beyond elated,” but it will take time to figure out how to re-open abortion clinics in Texas, many of which have already closed because of the law.
The relatively straightforward decision came as a surprise to many who had worried that the court might be unable to make a clear decision since it lacks a ninth member.
The Supreme Court has conspicuously avoided making clear decisions in a number of significant cases this term. In February, the death of Justice Antonin Scalia left the court one member short. Last week, the court voted 4-4 in a major case (PDF) centering on President Barack Obama's plan to protect many undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to work legally in the U.S. That tie vote essentially killed Obama's plan.
Also, in May, the court punted cases back to lower courts over how religious not-for-profits must respond to the Affordable Care Act's requirement that they offer employees birth control coverage. In that situation (PDF), the Supreme Court urged the lower courts to come up with compromises.