End of Roe v Wade? June Medical Services v Gee abortion case could irreversibly weaken landmark judgment

The landmark 1973 Roe v Wade judgment gives pregnant women liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction and June Medical Services v Gee poses a threat to abortion rights in the country

                            End of  Roe v Wade? June Medical Services v Gee abortion case could irreversibly weaken landmark judgment
(Getty Images)

Come March, the Supreme Court will hear two consolidated cases, June Medical Services v Gee and Gee v June Medical Services, which is being predicted as the greatest threat to abortion rights in the country in decades. It will also potentially hurt the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade judgment that gives pregnant women liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. 

Here's everything you need to know about the case.

What is the focus of the case?
June Medical Services is a Louisiana abortion provider that became the focal point of the case when it, along with two other abortion clinics and doctors from the state filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Louisiana in September 2014 against the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act (or Act 620), saying that it placed an undue burden on patients trying to access abortion procedures. Act 620 was passed by the state in August 2014.

Anti-abortion demonstrators hold signs near the 2020 Women's March on January 18, 2020, in Washington, DC. Marches were held nationwide in cities including New York and Los Angeles. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

According to the Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v Casey, the Supreme Court set the standard for an undue burden in order to determine whether or not an abortion regulation violated the Constitution.

The defendant in the case is Dr Rebekah Gee, the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. 

What does Act 620 do?
Act 620 requires abortion providers to have to admitting privileges at a local hospital within a 30-mile radius from where the procedure is performed. According to abortion rights advocates the law has no medical benefit and is just a guise to shut down abortion clinics. While those that have put forth the bill claim that it is so the patient has easier access to medical care in case of an emergency during an abortion, emergencies during the process are a rarity.

Moreover, it also does not ensure the competency of physicians providing the abortion and neither does it improve the safety of the patient getting it. There is also no guarantee of admitting privileges help a woman get better treatment. In addition, hospitals can deny admitting privileges for a number of reasons.

Handsmaid themed protesters march down Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, on May 25, 2019, to protest the proposed Heartbeat Bill that will ban abortion after 6 weeks in that state scheduled for a vote on May 28. (EMILY KASK/AFP via Getty Images)

Abortion rights activists believe that it is a Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers (TRAP) law, that is not only expensive but also medically unnecessary, in an effort to make it harder for women to access abortion and to harm abortion providers and women's health centers. 

Violating Act 620 can land a physician in prison, have fined levied and has civil liabilities. In addition, if a clinic employs a provider who does not have admitting privileges, the clinic could lose its license. 

What's the story so far?
The case is similar to another Supreme Court case — the 2016 case of Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt — where the Court struck down a similar law in Texas. Act 620 is similar to H.B.2, the Texas law that required the physician performing an abortion to mandatorily have active admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles from the location at which the abortion is performed.

After Louisiana passed Act 620 by June 2014 modeled after the Texas law, there were five abortion clinics in the state. Only one would make the requirements by the enforcement date of September 2014. Five doctors tried to secure admitting privileges but were denied. 

The district court struck down the admitting privileges requirement, but by the time it did, there were only three clinics remaining. In a state where approximately 10,000 people make use of abortion services, only one physician could continue to provide abortions if Act 620 went into effect, the court found. It entered a temporary restraining order on the law. 

However, the state's appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency stay pending appeal was granted in February 2016. Act 620 was blocked again in March 2016, after the US Supreme Court granted the request for an emergency stay of the Fifth Circuit’s decision. 

By June the same year, the Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt case had reached a verdict where Texas’s admitting privileges law was declared unconstitutional, which sent the June Medical Services case back to the district court for further probe and once again, it is declared permanently unconstitutional. 

In September 2018, Judges Jerry Edwin Smith and Edith Brown Clement reversed the district court's decision. The court found that it was easier for physicians to get their admitting privileges unlike Texas, which was more strict. Following this, a week later, June Medical filed an application in the Supreme Court for an emergency stay on the Fifth Circuit’s decision and its application was granted. 

The plaintiffs in the case filed for a writ of certiorari in April 2019, which is meant to review the decision and proceedings in a lower court and determine whether there were any irregularities.

This case is the first abortion-related case that the Supreme Court will hear after Justice Brett Kavanaugh took on the reigns from Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was considered to be a more moderate conservative. He was known to uphold abortion restrictions but also keep a check on those laws that broke its backbone. The way this case finds its end is also expected to set a predicament on how abortion cases would be treated in the future.

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