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The Policy

The Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that would have closed all but a single abortion clinic in the state. The 5-4 decision of June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo annulled an anti-abortion law limiting admitting privileges. Under this law, doctors who performed abortions were no longer permitted to have admitting privileges for nearby hospitals. At minimum, two of the three abortion clinics in the state would be forced to close, requiring women to drive farther and wait longer for the single doctor that would be left to meet the demand of 10,000 abortions women in Louisiana seek each year.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the nearly identical 2016 case out of Texas set a precedent for the outcome of June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo. This case also centered on doctors performing abortions not being allowed admitting practices at surrounding hospitals. While the prior rule was made with a ruling of 5-3, in the months after the death of Justice Antonio Scalia, the same conditions were found in and ultimately applied to June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo, resulting in the same outcome despite the current make up of the court. After this decision, Louisiana’s three remaining abortion clinics are permitted to stay open.

Analysis:

While some find this to be a shock, given the conservative-leaning majority of the court, others call this case “Supreme Court 101” saying that it was nearly a no-brainer, citing the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling where states cannot place an undue burden on a woman’s right to have an abortion. Consequently, a law like this in Louisiana, that places a significant undue burden on a woman’s ability to have an abortion, would be easily struck down.

From fetal heartbeat bills, to the ectopic pregnancy bill, cases directly targeting a women’s right to abortion access have been making headlines in recent months. With the appointment of conservative justices by Trump, many anti-abortionists see this as an opportunity to take a case and challenge Roe v. Wade. While this law does not upend Roe v. Wade, it is part of a broader strategy of implementing restrictive state laws, that when put together, threaten overall access and the validity of the monumental 1973 case.

The deciding member of the Court was Chief Justice Roberts, who joined the liberal wing and upended the Louisiana law. Conservatives were quick to condemn both the ruling and Chief Justice Roberts, notably, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany were against the ruling.

Striking down this law increases access to abortions in the state of Louisiana, specifically for two marginalized demographics, those who have a lower income and women of color. About 8,000 abortions were performed in Louisiana in 2018, according to state statistics and more than two-thirds of abortion patients there are women of color. Limiting access will do exactly what the Court vowed to prevent, placing undue burden on women’s access to abortion care.

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