United States top court strikes down law limiting abortions

Tanya Simon
June 29, 2020

The judge, John W. deGravelles of the U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge, struck down the Louisiana law in 2017, saying it created an undue burden on women's constitutional right to abortion.

The law was almost identical to a Texas law that was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in a 2016 decision.

The author of the law, Louisiana State Representative Katrina Jackson, has denied that its objective was to reduce abortion access, and called the regulation "common-sense women's health care".

During the March argument, they told the justices that if the Louisiana law were upheld and the clinic in Shreveport closed, pregnant women could be forced to travel several hundred miles to New Orleans to see a doctor who provides abortion. "All states, including Louisiana, have an interest in regulating abortion and a duty to protect women", he said. If the law went into effect, a trial judge concluded, there would be a single doctor in a single clinic, in New Orleans, available to provide abortions in Louisiana. As NBC News' report noted, in the case four years ago, the court's majority, "ruled that Texas imposed an obstacle on women seeking access to abortion services without providing any medical benefits".

The case garnered significant national attention and involvement with the Trump administration and various pro-life organizations filing numerous amicus briefs backing Louisiana.

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While he did not join the liberal justices' opinion, Roberts concurred in the judgment and relied on stare decisis - the legal principle of basing decision on past precedent. Admitting privileges can be hard for abortion providers to obtain as hospitals do not want to be associated with them due to the stigma and as abortion is a statistically safe procedure, requiring extremely limited numbers of patients to have to go to hospitals for care. That doctrine "requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike. Therefore, Louisiana's law can not stand under our precedents", Roberts added. But since then, conservative forces in southern and midwestern states, in particular, have worked to severely restrict access to abortion services in the last three decades. "Today a majority of the Court perpetuates its ill-founded abortion jurisprudence by enjoining a perfectly legitimate state law and doing so without jurisdiction", Thomas wrote.

In two previous abortion cases, Roberts had favoured restrictions.

Justice Alito also focused on standing in his stinging dissent, saying that "The idea that a regulated party can invoke the right of a third party for the objective of attacking legislation enacted to protect the third party is stunning". "Louisiana abortion providers have an alarming and unsafe record of substandard healthcare-including botched abortions and failure to satisfy basic sanitary requirements".

Elizabeth Murrill, the state's solicitor general and attorney who defended the regulation in front of the Supreme Court, agreed, saying its objective was "to protect the health and safety of women who are having abortions". "Unfortunately, this ruling will allow the abortion industry to continue to put profits before patients". Rather, he hung it all on stare decisis, the notion of precedent, saying that he also would be loathe to strike down an abortion regulation absent proof that it hinders a woman's ability to get the procedure done. Most any state health department report on their local abortion clinics will more than likely have repulsive citations that should make any woman question walking inside those doors. However, they are highly effective at shuttering clinics, which perform the majority of America's abortions.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, said, "Today's ruling is a bitter disappointment".

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