The Supreme Court voted Monday 5-4 to reject a restrictive Louisiana abortion law. The law would have required abortion clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Chief Justice John Roberts was the deciding vote, joining Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg in an act of precedent protection.
In June 2016, the Supreme Court ruled 5-to-3 against a similar law in Texas. The law also required doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges and required abortion clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center standards. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Stephen G. Breyer, and Anthony M. Kennedy made up the majority, and Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas made up the dissent. The majority cited Planned Parenthood v. Casey’s “undue burden” prohibition as the reason for their ruling, connecting the law to the closure of half of the abortion clinics in Texas.
Since then, the makeup of the court has changed. President Donald Trump entered office with an open seat, due to the Senate’s refusal to confirm Merrick Garland, and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy retired in 2018. This resulted in the confirmation of two new Justices under Trump: Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh. Now, this identical law was facing a majority of justices with anti-abortion voting records.
Ultimately, Chief Justice G. John Roberts decided to stand with the four-year-old precedent. He wrote: “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 precedents.”
The Louisiana law would have left the state with one abortion clinic and one abortion provider. 10,000 people in Louisiana require abortions each year. The restrictive law never went into effect, however, due to a district court’s adherence to the 2016 precedent and the Supreme Court’s temporary blockage of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ attempt to reinstate it in 2019.
That same Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals admitted that it could not identify a single person that would have been helped by the Louisiana law.
Admitting privileges are generally viewed as burdensome by the medical community. The federal government eliminated the requirement for doctors at ambulatory surgical centers who treat Medicaid and Medicare patients, and every major medical group in the U.S. opposed the restriction.
Nina Totenberg, writing for NPR, argues that this “decision is likely to play a significant role in the upcoming election.” 56% of the voters that listed Supreme Court nominations as their “most important factor” in 2016 supported Trump, but he has yet to make good on his promise to overturn Roe V. Wade – despite nominating two justices during his term.
Sources: NPR 06/29, New York Times 06/29, Supreme Court 06/29, Washington Post 06/29, CNBC 06/29