Opponents of the law argued the law was burdensome and medically unnecessary and aimed only to regulate abortion clinics out of business.
The Supreme Court on Monday voted 5-4 to strike down a restrictive Louisiana abortion law, declaring it imposed an “undue burden” on the right to women’s access to abortion and was therefore “unconstitutional.”
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberals in blocking the law in what was the court’s first major abortion case of Donald Trump’s presidency.
The case, June Medical Services v. Gee, centered on a Louisiana law passed in 2014 requiring physicians who perform abortions to have “active admitting privileges” at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where they provide abortions. Had the law stood, doctors who offered abortion care without having admitting privileges stood to face imprisonment or fines; the clinics that employed them could also be fined, have their licenses revoked, or face civil liability.
The law’s supporters claimed it was intended to protect the health and safety of women seeking abortions, and that the requirements for obtaining admitting privileges would guarantee the competence of doctors.
Opponents of the law, which included a coalition of labor unions, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Planned Parenthood, argued the law was burdensome and medically unnecessary and aimed only to regulate abortion clinics out of business. If the law had gone into effect, there would only have been one abortion provider in all of Louisiana who would have been legally allowed to provide abortions.
“Admitting privileges requirements have no medical benefit,” said Dr. Ushma Upadhyay, associate professor at ANSIRH, at the University of California, San Francisco. “These medically unnecessary restrictions force clinics to shut down and put essential health care out of reach for far too many.”
The Court agreed with reproductive rights advocates, just four years after the court ruled that a similar abortion law passed in Texas was unconstitutional.
“The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons,” Roberts wrote, concurring with the liberal wing’s decision. “Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents.”
“The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons.”
“Today the Supreme Court did the right thing by scientific evidence and protected abortion care that was hanging by a thread,” said Dr. Sarah Roberts, associate professor at ANSIRH, at the University of California, San Francisco. “Research shows that people face significant barriers to abortion care in Louisiana, particularly those struggling financially. Today’s decision will ensure that Louisiana clinics remain open, but the work to address all the other barriers to care is far from over.”
Since the Supreme Court guaranteed a woman’s constitutional right to abortion in Roe in 1973, Louisiana has passed 89 abortion restrictions, far more than any other state in the country, according to a national study from the Guttmacher Institute.
The court’s decision will allow the state’s three remaining abortion clinics to stay open. The Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of clinics and doctors in June Medical, celebrated Monday’s decision, but noted there was still work to be done to preserve the right to abortion.
“Politicians no doubt will exploit today’s fractured decision to pass even more anti-abortion laws that undermine people’s rights and access to care,” the group said in a tweet.
Oriaku Njoku, co-founder and executive director of ARC-Southeast, a Georgia-based reproductive rights organization, also celebrated the ruling while issuing a similar word of caution.
“Reproductive health, rights, and justice advocates, activists, and front-line clinic staff across the country came together to deliver this hard-fought win today. But our work does not and cannot end here. All of us, everywhere, must be able to choose if, when, and how to raise families in safe, healthy communities,” she said. “We must continue to fund abortions, organize in our communities, and build power—not just concessions from the courts—to ensure that we are not in this same predicament another four years from now or ever.”
Monday’s ruling is sure to anger conservatives, who were counting on a Trump presidency and the conservative-leaning court to usher in an end to Roe v. Wade. Many Republican-led states have ramped up abortion restrictions in recent years, in order to set the stage for challenges to the 1973 decision guaranteeing a woman’s right to choose.
In 2019, 25 abortion bans were enacted in 12 states, and many others approved less comprehensive but still detrimental restrictions. Due to ongoing lawsuits, none of the bans are in effect yet, and abortion remains legal in all 50 states.
But in the past month alone, Republicans in Iowa and Tennessee have passed laws severely restricting abortion access and nine other states have also been accused of taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to try to further restrict access to abortion.