A divided Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics, reaffirming a commitment to abortion rights amid fierce opposition from dissenting conservative justices in the state’s first major abortion case. Trump era.
Chief Justice John Roberts and his four more liberal colleagues have ruled that a law that requires doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals violates abortion rights the court announced. for the first time in the historic decision Roe v. Wade in 1973.
The result is far from the final word in the decades-long fight against abortion with dozens of state-imposed restrictions making their way through the courts. But the decision was a surprising defeat for abortion opponents, who believed a new conservative majority with two of President Donald Trump’s appointees would begin to slash abortion access.
The key vote belonged to Roberts, who had consistently voted against abortion rights before, including in a 2016 case in which the court struck down a Texas law virtually identical to Louisiana’s.
The Chief Justice explained that he continues to believe the Texas case was ill-decided, but feels it is important that the court stick to its previous rulings.
“The outcome in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago striking down an almost identical Texas law,” Roberts wrote. He did not join the opinion drafted by Justice Stephen Breyer for fellow liberals in Monday’s ruling, and his stance left abortion-rights supporters more relieved than pleased.
The case was the third in two weeks in which Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, joined the court’s Liberals in a majority. One of the earlier rulings preserved legal protections and work authorization for 650,000 immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. The other extended federal protections against employment discrimination to LGBT Americans, a decision that Judge Neil Gorsuch also joined and authored.
Dissenting on Monday, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “Today, a majority of the Court perpetuates its unfounded abortion jurisprudence by enjoining perfectly legitimate state law and doing so without jurisdiction.”
Trump’s two high court picks, Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were at odds, along with Samuel Alito. The presence of the new justices is what had fueled hopes among abortion opponents and fears on the other side that the Supreme Court would be more likely to uphold the restrictions.
The Trump administration had sided with Louisiana in urging the court to uphold the law. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany criticized the decision. “In an unfortunate decision today, the Supreme Court devalued both the health of mothers and the lives of unborn children by undermining Louisiana’s policy that required all abortion procedures to be performed by people with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital,” McEnany said.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List, said, “Today’s decision is a bitter disappointment. This further demonstrates the Supreme Court’s failure to empower the American people to protect the well-being of women from the tentacles of a brutal, for-profit abortion industry.
On the other side, support for the decision mixed with a distrust that the future of abortion rights appears to rest with Roberts.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Monday’s ruling in no way ended the fight for abortion rights in legislatures and courts.
“We are relieved that the Louisiana law was blocked today, but we are worried about tomorrow. With this victory, Louisiana clinics can stay open to serve the state’s one million women of childbearing age. But the court’s ruling could encourage states to pass even more restrictive laws where clarity is needed if the right to abortion is to be protected,” Northup said.
In her reasoning, Roberts “signalled a desire to reduce legal protections for abortion,” Leah Litman, a University of Michigan law professor, wrote on the Take Care blog. However, she also acknowledged that “Roberts’ emphasis on the importance of adhering to prior rulings does not resemble the thinking of someone who is inclined to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
A trial judge had said the law would not provide health benefits to women and leave only one clinic open in Louisiana, in New Orleans. It would make it too difficult for women to have abortions, in violation of the Constitution, the judge said.
But the New Orleans Court of Appeals rejected the judge’s findings and upheld the law in 2018, doubting clinics should close and saying doctors hadn’t done enough to build relationships with patients. local hospitals.
The clinics filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court, asking that the law be blocked while judges weigh the case.
Early last year, Roberts joined the four liberal members of the court in granting that request and keeping the law on hold.
Roberts’ vote came as a bit of a surprise due to his previous vote in the Texas case. This may have reflected his new role since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy as the court’s rotating judge, his concern about the perception of the court as a partisan institution, and his respect for an earlier court ruling. , even with which he disagreed. Roberts wrote nothing explaining his position at the time of the Texas case.
The regulations at issue in Louisiana are distinct from other state laws that are making their way through legal challenges that would ban abortions early in a pregnancy. These include the ban on abortion once a fetal heart rate is detected, as early as 6 weeks, and the almost total ban enacted in Alabama.