Supreme Court Rules 5-4 Against Louisiana Law to Protect Women Seeking Abortions

NRB | June 29, 2020 | Advocacy

The Supreme Court narrowly struck down Louisiana’s law requiring abortionists to hold admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, issuing a 5-4 decision Monday in the case of June Medical Services L. L. C. v. Russo.

Louisiana’s Act 620 was passed to protect women seeking abortions by ensuring the competence of doctors and promoting continuity of care and information exchange when medical complications arise. It required any doctor who performs abortions to hold “active admitting privileges at a hospital . . . located not further than thirty miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced,” and defined “active admitting privileges” as being “a member in good standing” of the hospital’s “medical staff . . . with the ability to admit a patient and to provide diagnostic and surgical services to such patient.”

Louisiana lawmakers had passed legislation in response to the failure of some abortion clinics to follow basic safety regulations, such as one facility’s hiring of an ophthalmologist and a radiologist to perform abortions.

“Act 620 is a common-sense law that protects women,” commented NRB CEO Troy Miller. “Abortionists should be held to standards like those of doctors at ambulatory surgical centers. Instead, the Court decided to let the abortionists call the shots, making it easier for them at cost of putting the health of women at risk.”

Alliance Defending Freedom General Counsel Kristen Waggoner similarly noted how Louisiana abortion providers “went to extraordinary lengths to erase a law that state legislators enacted overwhelmingly, in bi-partisan fashion, to promote the wellbeing of women.”

“Women can speak for themselves—they don’t need abortion businesses to speak for them,” she said in a press release. “Women seeking abortions have the same right to competent and quality care as patients involved in other surgical procedures. Louisiana’s admitting privileges law protected that right.”

Echoing that, Katherine Beck Johnson, an attorney and Research Fellow for Legal and Policy Studies at Family Research Council (FRC), stated: “With its decision today, the Court has destroyed the right of states to provide oversight and regulation of abortion clinics, treating them like every other outpatient surgery center. The Court failed to clarify that abortionists cannot truly represent the interests of women when contesting health and safety requirements designed to protect those very same women.

“Not only do we disagree with the Court’s ruling that hospital admitting privileges create an ‘undue burden’ for women, but we also strongly disagree with the decision that abortionists should be able to automatically represent women in court,” added Johnson in a press release. “There is a clear conflict of interest with abortionists representing women as they prioritize profit over women’s health.”

Notably, FRC’s President, Tony Perkins, was the Louisiana legislator who authored the first version of the state law providing state oversight and regulation of abortion clinics.

“For too long, abortionists have flouted the law and derided health standards for women seeking abortion,” Perkins said in a press release. “As a Louisiana legislator, I authored one of the first abortion clinic regulations in the country to stop abortion clinics from operating in filthy, disgusting, unregulated conditions. Unfortunately, in Louisiana and elsewhere these facilities have shown minimal concern for the well-being of women as many continued performing abortions in marginal conditions that put lives at risk as they falsify records to cover up their malpractice. With this decision, the Supreme Court has prevented Louisiana from enforcing the law to stop abortionists who regularly deride and violate health standards for women seeking abortion.”

Perhaps just as surprising as the ruling was the reasoning of Chief Justice Roberts, who sided with the court’s liberal justices. Roberts said he did so because the Court had struck down a nearly identical law in Texas four years ago, so Louisiana’s law could not stand in keeping with stare decisis – the legal doctrine that asserts that like cases be treated alike, absent special circumstances.

“I joined the dissent in Whole Woman’s Health and continue to believe that the case was wrongly decided,” wrote Roberts, referring to the Court ruling in Whole Woman’s Health vs. Helderstedt. “The question today however is not whether Whole Woman’s Health was right or wrong, but whether to adhere to it in.”

Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family, noted in a blog post that Roberts’ “commitment to precedent appears to be politically selective and calculating, especially since the composition of the Supreme Court was different in 2016.”

“By Roberts’ standard of Stare Decisis supremacy, the horrific Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery would still be the law of the land,” he added.

In its friend-of-the-court brief, ADF had argued against those who insisted on using the court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health to strike down Louisiana’s Act 620.

“Louisiana is not Texas, and this case is not WWH,” the brief stated. “There, as Petitioners recognize, the Court’s analysis relied on ‘general medical evidence and studies.’ Pet’rs Br. 5. But here, the specific and egregious practices of Louisiana abortion providers amply support the legislature’s conclusion that Act 620 will help protect women.”

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