A divided U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that opponents said would have left the state with only one abortion clinic, in a surprise reinforcement for women’s reproductive rights.
“The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law,” Roberts said, writing separately from the other four in the majority.
Abortion opponents had been looking to take a first step toward overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized the procedure nationwide. They had reason for optimism given the addition of two
Instead, the Republican-appointed Roberts disappointed conservatives in a blockbuster case for the third time in two weeks. He previously cast the pivotal vote to
Gorsuch and Kavanaugh
Gorsuch and Kavanaugh dissented along with Justices
“There is ample evidence in the record showing that admitting privileges help to protect the health of women by ensuring that physicians who perform abortions meet a higher standard of competence than is shown by the mere possession of a license to practice,” Alito wrote.
The ruling is a defeat for the Trump administration, which argued alongside Louisiana in support of the law.
“In an unfortunate ruling today, the Supreme Court devalued both the health of mothers and the lives of unborn children by gutting Louisiana’s policy,” White House Press Secretary
Opponents said the abortion law would have left Louisiana with only one clinic, in New Orleans, and just one abortion doctor to serve the roughly 10,000 women who seek to end a pregnancy every year in the state. They said other doctors have been unable to obtain the required privileges.
‘Elated’ Clinic Administrator
The law was challenged by two unidentified doctors and the Hope Medical Group for Women, a Shreveport clinic that said it would have had to close if the measure took effect.
“To say we’re elated hardly begins to come close to what we are feeling,” Kathaleen Pittman, administrator of the clinic, told reporters.
“The district court’s significant factual findings -- both as to burdens and as to benefits -- have ample evidentiary support,” Breyer wrote for the four.
Louisiana said it was trying to protect women from unscrupulous and incompetent abortion providers. The state told the Supreme Court some of the doctors didn’t make an adequate effort to secure hospital rights.
Roberts said neither side had asked the court to reassess the landmark 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling, which reaffirmed abortion rights and created the “undue burden” standard at the core of the latest case.
Roberts left open a path for upholding other types of abortion restrictions. He rejected contentions from abortion-rights advocates that courts should weigh the benefits of a restriction against its burdens.
“Laws that do not pose a substantial obstacle to abortion access are permissible, so long as they are reasonably related to a legitimate state interest,” Roberts wrote.
Julie Rikelman, who argued the case for the clinic and doctors, said Roberts’s reasoning was “obviously concerning” and “muddies the waters” about the legal standard.
But “this is a big victory,” said Rikelman, a lawyer at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The court did uphold the rule of law and say that this law has to be permanently blocked.”
Louisiana’s law, enacted in 2014, required doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (48 kilometers) of the abortion facility. The measure, which carried criminal penalties, was in effect for a brief period in 2016.
Louisiana and its allies also argued that Hope and the doctors lacked the legal right to challenge the law on behalf of their patients.
In the 2016 ruling, now-retired Justice
Conservative states have been moving to sharply restrict abortion rights in recent years. States enacted 58 new abortion restrictions in 2019 alone, including a total ban by Alabama, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that backs reproductive rights. Many of those laws have been on hold.
The cases are June Medical Services v. Russo, 18-1323, and Russo v. June Medical Services, 18-1460.
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