The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law regulating abortion clinics in the state of Louisiana on June 29th 2020.
In a 4-5 ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts cast the pivotal vote to block the controversial law from passing which critics stated would have imposed restrictions in the availability of abortion and also shut down two-thirds of the clinics in Louisiana.
The Louisiana law, passed in the state legislature in 2014, required doctors who perform an abortion to have admitting privileges (which is sometimes difficult to obtain) at a hospital within 30 miles (48km) of the abortion clinic.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a jointly written opinion with the court’s other liberal wing that Louisiana Law would make it “impossible for many women to obtain a safe, legal abortion in the State and imposing substantial obstacles on those who could.” The court stated that the law “offers no significant health benefit” and that requiring ‘admitting privileges’ for an abortion is an unconstitutional burden for the patients who are seeking it.
The June Medical Services v Russo ruling was celebrated by abortion rights advocates who feared the passing of the law. Mainly due to the fact that in 2016, Justice John Roberts dissented a similar abortion law in Texas. This lifted the spirits of the anti-abortion supporters who expected a similar outcome. However, Justice Roberts cast the decisive vote to reject the law here based near-identical Texas precedent. “The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons. Therefore, Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents.”
Justice Roberts based his decision not on his opinion on the law but on the legal doctrines demanded by the court to treat all cases alike – particularly the first case Roe v. Wade in 1973. “Adherence to precedent is necessary to avoid an arbitrary discretion in the courts,” he wrote in a statement.
To the conservative’s dismay, Justice Robert seemingly continues to side with the liberals in two other cases – civil rights protections to LGBT employees from job discrimination and invalidation of the administration’s plan to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
This case marks the first abortion challenge by the Supreme Court since the addition of two conservative appointees- Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh by President Donald Trump, who pledged curtailment of abortion during election rallies to his pro-life followers.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany expressed her apprehension with the decision: “In an unfortunate ruling today, the Supreme Court devalued both the health of mothers and the lives of unborn children by gutting Louisiana’s policy that required all abortion procedures be performed by individuals with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.”
Anti-abortion group – March for Life’s President, Jeanne Mancini, said in a statement, “No abortion facility should receive a free pass to provide substandard care.”
Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, “We’re relieved that the Louisiana law has been blocked today but we’re concerned about tomorrow. With this win, the clinics in Louisiana can stay open to serve the one million women of reproductive age in the state.”
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