After Supreme Court Agrees to Hear First Abortion Case With Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, Warnings Right-Wingers Could ‘Decimate’ Access in Louisiana

“We are counting on the court to follow its precedent; otherwise, clinics will needlessly close.”

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 10-4-2019

A contested Louisiana law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals resembles a Texas law the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 2016. (Photo: Jordan Uhl/Flickr/cc)

Reproductive rights groups on Friday emphasized the importance of legal precedent after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging an anti-choice Louisiana law—the court’s first abortion rights case since President Donald Trump’s appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, joined the bench and shifted the court to the right.

Act 620, a 2014 Louisiana law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, is similar to a Texas law the Supreme Court struck down in 2016. Such measures—which critics call “TRAP” (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws—have become popular among right-wing legislatures trying to circumvent Roe v. Wade and restrict access to abortion care.

“These excessive and unnecessary government regulations—an ever-growing trend among state legislatures—increase the cost and scarcity of abortion services, harming women’s health and inhibiting their reproductive choices,” according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is challenging Act 620. “These laws jeopardize women’s access to safe, legal, high-quality reproductive healthcare and represent a backdoor attempt by politicians to end legal abortion access.”

In a statement Friday responding to the high court’s decision to hear the Louisiana case, June Medical Services v. Gee, Center for Reproductive Rights president and CEO Nancy Northup pointed to the court’s ruling in the Texas case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedtwhich was also brought by the center.

“Louisiana is openly defying the Supreme Court’s decision from just three years ago, in which they found an identical Texas law unconstitutional,” declared Northup. “We are counting on the court to follow its precedent; otherwise, clinics will needlessly close and there will be just one doctor left in the entire state to provide abortion care.”

“Louisiana has tried everything under the sun to decimate access to abortion care,” said Kathaleen Pittman, clinic administrator at Hope Medical Group, a plaintiff in the case. “The situation here is already dire and this law would be the last straw for most of the remaining clinics. We’re hopeful that the court will recognize how devastating this law would be for women in our state.”

Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, warned in a tweet that if the court fails to follow its precedent, “it could make getting an abortion virtually impossible in the state.”

In September of 2018, a three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals defied the Texas ruling and upheld the Louisiana law in a 2-1 decision. In February, Chief Justice John Roberts—who dissented in the Texas case—joined the Supreme Court’s four liberals justices for an interim ruling that extended a stay temporarily blocking Act 620 while abortion providers pursued an appeal.

“The meaning of Chief Justice Roberts’s vote to block the Louisiana law is contested, and it is hardly certain he will vote to uphold the law on the merits,” The New York Times reported Friday. “Instead, he might have meant only to ensure an orderly process in which the Supreme Court, rather than an appellate panel, makes the momentous decision of whether to limit or overrule a recent Supreme Court precedent.”

Now, the Supreme Court will review the 5th Circuit’s ruling on the Louisiana measure.

“If the rule of law means anything, it means that the court cannot sit by and watch as the lower court thumbs its nose at Supreme Court precedent and at people’s constitutional rights,” Jennifer Dalven of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project said Friday. “We hope and expect that the court will strike down this unconstitutional law, which would decimate access to abortion for people in Louisiana.”

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the Louisiana case follows a wave of recently enacted state laws restricting abortion, all of which have the ultimate aim of giving the right-wing high court an opportunity to overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that affirmed the constitutional right to abortion.

“President Trump vowed to remake the judiciary by nominating judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade,” noted Dariely Rodriguez, director of the Economic Justice Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “No doubt, states like Louisiana are seeking to exploit this moment by proposing laws intended to collide with decades of settled Supreme Court precedents.”

Considering that Louisiana has “one of the largest black populations and with some of the highest racial healthcare disparities,” she added that “Louisiana’s law would have an especially stark impact on low-income black women and women of color.”

Rodriguez, who denounced Act 620’s restrictions as “draconian and burdensome,” concluded that “the Supreme Court should adhere to its precedents and reject this law as plainly unconstitutional.”

However, pro-choice advocates expressed worries Friday that June Medical Services will be “a golden opportunity” for the high court’s new right-wing additions to begin overturning legal precedent on abortion rights and cutting off access to the procedure.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health pointed out in a pair of tweets Friday that many people across the United States already struggle to access abortion care due to legally dubious local restrictions. Regarding the court’s decicion, the group added that “today’s news is a reminder that this fight is a marathon, not a sprint.”

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