In a surprise, Court smacks down Louisiana abortion restrictions

Supreme Court

SCOTUS has dealt another blow to the Trump administration and conservatives, ruling 5-4 against a Louisiana abortion law, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with liberals.

Anti-abortion advocates had hoped that the Supreme Court, with its 5-4 conservative majority, would be willing to permit abortion restrictions like those being pursued by Louisiana and other conservative states. The measure had required doctors who perform abortions to have a sometimes difficult-to-obtain formal affiliation called "admitting privileges" at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of the clinic. They said that because early abortions are very safe, patients rarely are sent to a hospital.

Toobin is referring to a 2019 dissent from Roberts that voted for abortion restrictions in Texas.

"The legal doctrine of stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike", he wrote.

"This case is similar to, almost identical with, Whole Woman's Health". 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". "Therefore Louisiana's law can not stand under our precedent", he said.

Roberts was a question mark as the case unfurled, though some speculated that an eye on his legacy and discomfort with overtly political moves would prompt him to join the liberals.

The regulations at issue in Louisiana are distinct from other state laws making their way through court challenges that would ban abortions early in a pregnancy.

The petitioners asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether that decision violated past precedents and should be struck down.

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"Even under the Chief Justice's approach to stare decisis, continued adherence to these precedents can not be justified", he writes, adding his belief of the Constitutional illegitimacy of the landmark, foundational abortion access case Roe v. Wade. "But the Court's decision could embolden states to pass even more restrictive laws when clarity is needed if abortion rights are to be protected", Northup said.

The law threatened to close all three of Louisiana's clinics.

The court reviewed a September 2018 ruling by the New Orleans-based Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the Louisiana law.

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.

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 goal of attacking legislation enacted to protect the third party is stunning". CNN's Jeffrey Toobin was surprised by the Chief Justice's willingness to side with liberals for the third time in three weeks, noting that "Roberts may not be who we thought he was".

As Julie Rikelman, lawyer for the Louisiana abortion clinic said during oral arguments, the vast majority of abortion lawsuits are brought by health-care providers on behalf of their patients.

"This is an extremely important decision to the lives of women in Louisiana most importantly because it means that Louisiana will not effectively have abortion ban", Toobin continued.

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