Supreme Court strikes down Louisiana law on abortion clinic restrictions in major win for pro-choice activists
Chief Justice John Roberts and the four liberal judges sided together to put it on hold while its constitutionality was reviewed
In what will be hailed as a victory by the pro-choice demographic, the Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Louisiana law that was looking to close all but one of the state's abortion providers. Voting primarily along ideological lines, the justices ruled that the law's requirement that doctors have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital violated a woman's right to abortion guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, reported the San Diego Union-Tribune.
All four liberal judges, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, were joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to rule 5-4 in favor of striking down the law, which, at one point, was expected to pass.
Last year, four members of the court -- Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, and Brett M. Kavanaugh -- had voted to allow it to take effect once it was upheld by the 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans. However, Roberts and the four Liberal judges sided together to put it on hold while its constitutionality was reviewed.
In March, they had heard arguments both for and against the law, with the lawyers for the state insisting that the admitting privileges rule was introduced as a health and safety measure. They said the law would ensure only competent and trusted physicians were performing abortions on the patients, who could be transferred to a hospital in cases of emergency. Abortion rights lawyers, however, argued that the law was a "sham" and a scheme to shut down the state's already beleaguered abortion clinics. They said abortions carried out early in the pregnancy were safe and rarely required the patients to be admitted into hospitals.
They pointed out that there was a stigma associated with doctors who carried out abortions, especially in small towns and rural areas, and that hospitals who typically extended admitting privileges to doctors wouldn't do so because it was still a controversial practice. They also said that, if the Louisiana law were to be upheld, pregnant women would be forced to travel several hundred miles to New Orleans to find a doctor who provided abortions.
The ruling ultimately came down to precedent. Four years ago, the Supreme Court had struck down a near-identical Texas law because they said it would put a heavy burden on women seeking abortions since it closed down more than half of the state’s clinics that provided the service. In a 5-3 ruling, the court had said that the burden's of the restrictions far outweighed its claimed benefits to health.
But Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who retired in 2018, had cast the key vote to form the majority then. This case, 'June Medical Center vs Russo,' was the court's first major abortion ruling since President Donald Trump's two appointees, Neil M. Gorsuch, and Brett M. Kavanaugh, shifted the bench to a conservative majority.
Roberts, who had voted to uphold the Texas law, switched sides this time around and cited precedent as his reason for rejecting the Louisiana law. "The legal doctrine of stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike. The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons. Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedent," he ruled.