Louisiana abortion law overturned by Supreme Court
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that could have shut down two of the state’s three abortion clinics, ruling by a 5 to 4 vote that it was virtually identical to a Texas measure that the court had struck down four years ago.
In an opinion by Judge Stephen Breyer, four liberal justices reaffirmed their 2016 ruling that the key element of Texas and Louisiana laws – that abortions can only be performed by doctors licensed by a local hospital to admit a patient if there is a problem – has no social benefits and thus interferes with a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.
The fifth vote, however, came from Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote separately on narrower reasons to say that the precedent demanded the same result. The Chief Justice disagreed with the 2016 decision, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt; the fifth majority vote in this case came from Judge Anthony Kennedy, now retired.
The decision marked the third time this month Chief Justice Roberts has frustrated Tories who expected him to line up on the right wing of the court. He was recently part of a 6-3 majority that extended federal civil rights protection to LGBT employees, and he also wrote the majority opinion 5-4 halting President Trump’s plan to drop deferred action for child arrivals, an Obama-era program providing work permits to unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children.
“I joined the dissent in Whole Woman’s Health and I continue to believe the case was poorly resolved,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote on Monday. “The question today, however, is not whether Whole Woman’s Health was good or bad, but whether to adhere to it to decide this case.”
Four other Conservatives were dissenting, including Justice Kennedy’s successor, Justice Brett Kavanaugh. “In my opinion, further investigation is needed to properly assess Louisiana law,” he wrote in a terse dissent that took up only two of the 133 pages, six different judges filed in various pluralistic, concurring and dissenters.
The state argued that the measure would improve care for women seeking abortions by requiring providers to be “members in good standing” of a hospital’s medical staff and be able to admit a patient for treatment. additional. Under previous state law, providers without admitting privileges could still perform abortions if they had a transfer agreement with a physician who did so.
But a federal district court in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, found that, like the almost identical law in Texas, the measure provided no health benefit, but would require many abortion clinics in the region. State to be closed – probably two of the three currently operating in Louisiana.
The Fifth American Circuit Court of Appeal, New Orleans, restore the law, concluding that the challengers had not proven that it would cause such a great obstacle to women seeking abortions. In Monday’s ruling, Judge Breyer wrote that the Fifth Circuit overstepped its role as an appeals committee, wrongly substituting its own “speculative guesses” for the “real-world evidence” the district court considered during of a six-day trial. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the plurality.
Justice Breyer noted that abortion is generally a safe procedure that rarely results in complications requiring hospitalization, and that hospitals grant admitting privileges for a myriad of reasons other than competence to perform abortions. In Louisiana, he observed, the district court ruled that many hospital policies “prohibit, or at least strongly discourage, the granting of privileges to abortion providers.”
“This is a victory for the people of Louisiana and the rule of law, but this case should never have gone this far,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, who represented the Shreveport, Louisiana, clinic that challenged the law. “We won an identical case four years ago… and the fact that we had to fight yet again shows that nothing can be taken for granted when it comes to protecting the right to abortion.”
Louisiana, which has some of the country’s toughest abortion restrictions, enacted the Admission Privileges Act in 2014, several months after the Texan version forced half of that state’s clinics to close. Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, then state legislator, was among those supporting the measure.
“Throughout my career and life as a pro-life Catholic, I have advocated for the protection, dignity and sanctity of life and will continue to do so,” Edwards said Monday. “Although I voted for the law in question and am disappointed, I respect the decision of the United States Supreme Court and have confidence that Louisiana and our nation will continue to move forward.”
Louisiana Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry responded with more anger. “Today, the Supreme Court continued its harrowing line of rulings that put ‘access’ to abortion before the health and safety of women and girls,” he said, leading in particular the anger at Chief Justice Roberts.
“It is deeply disappointing that the Chief Justice continues a pattern of inconsistent and baseless decisions,” said Mr. Landry. “In his misguided effort to convince the public that the Supreme Court is not political, Justice Roberts shows how political it is,” he said, following the previous Whole Woman’s Health of which he was a dissenter in 2016. “Today the Chief Justice … picks and chooses from a ‘buffet’ of stare decisis to avoid admitting that his court is fallible. (Stare decisis is the legal principle of sticking to the precedent.)
The Trump administration had backed Louisiana’s law and on Monday the White House criticized the court’s decision. “Instead of valuing fundamental democratic principles, unelected judges have encroached on the sovereign prerogatives of state governments by imposing their own political preference for abortion to override legitimate regulations on abortion safety,” he said in a statement.
The Trump campaign said on Monday that the court ruling should remind abortion opponents to support the president, who said his appointees would overturn Roe v. Wade.
The alleged Democratic candidate, former vice president
Joe biden, also focused on electoral implications.
Republicans “are trying to appeal these laws to the Supreme Court in the hopes that Trump’s judges will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, ”he said in a statement. “As president, I will codify Roe v. Wade and my Justice Department will do everything in their power to stop the eruption of state laws that so blatantly violate a woman’s constitutional and protected right to choose. “
With abortion being one of the country’s most controversial issues, the case was hounded from start to finish on political grounds. In March, during one of the final in-person oral arguments before the coronavirus pandemic led judges to remote proceedings, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic House leader, stood at the outside the court and warned that those appointed by President Trump, Justices Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, “will pay the price” if they vote against the right to abortion.
As Chief Justice Roberts once again ignited those on the right, he has an extremely conservative record overall, and on Monday he offered the Tories a meaningful victory by claiming Congress gave the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau a too much independence vis-à-vis the president.
In his opinion on Monday, the chief justice stressed the importance of respecting precedent in all but the most egregious situations – and observed that Louisiana had not sought to overturn the ruling on the right to l abortion, the 1992 Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. The case, which sought to find common ground on abortion, said states can impose restrictions as long as they do not impose a “substantial obstacle” constituting an “undue burden” on women’s rights. to terminate their pregnancy. With this in mind, he writes, Louisiana law must fall like that of Texas.
But he rebuffed Judge Breyer’s majority opinion in Whole Woman’s Health, which he characterized as going beyond Casey to let the courts balance the costs and benefits of abortion regulations. “To pretend we could do that would require us to act as lawmakers, not as judges,” he wrote, given the value judgments inherent in abortion policy.
In the main dissent, Judge Samuel Alito said the case was getgo flawed because it was filed by abortion providers rather than a woman seeking the procedure. Providers, he argued, would naturally oppose any regulations that made it harder to do business, even if it was good for women’s health.
Justice Alito said the admission of privileges could be a good indicator of a physician’s competence, and suggested that physicians who currently perform abortions in Louisiana have made minimal efforts to obtain such privileges. But he did not ask the court to override the “substantial obstacle” standard in assessing abortion regulations. Instead, he said the case should be sent back to the district court for a new trial that more skeptically examines the vendors’ arguments against the law.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh all agreed in whole or in part with Justice Alito, and each filed a separate dissent developing their own rationale for the dissent.
Write to Jess Bravin at [email protected]
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