In a new win for the fight for reproductive rights, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Louisiana’s abortion law, which required doctors at clinics to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles, was unconstitutional. The law, which first came to be in 2014, was challenged last fall by two Louisiana medical professionals and the Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport clinic. They ruled that patients seeking abortions would only have access to one doctor in the area, a case that was brought to the Supreme Court by the Center for Reproductive Rights. According to the New York Times, if this law was not overturned, it would have left the state with one single abortion clinic.
Admitting privileges have been more widely discussed within the realm of reproductive rights over the last decade, though they date back to 1986; abortion clinics within states calling for admitting privileges must perform the procedure at the hospital, or risk closure. But this decision comes as a major victory to reproductive rights, setting a precedent for similar battles in other states.
The decision came down to a 5-4 vote, with Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Chief Justice John Roberts voting in favor to abolish the law; Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch dissented.
What is perhaps most striking about Monday’s decision is that it marked the third time Chief Justice John Roberts has stood on the more progressive side of Supreme Court issues ending in a split vote in just the past two weeks. Earlier in June, he wrote in favor of upholding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and against job discrimination that impacts gay and transgender workers. This is a recent wave of progressive votes for Roberts, who was first appointed as Chief Justice in 2003 by former President George W. Bush, still does not discount his past. Bush was known throughout his presidency for his anti-abortion stance, and Roberts has a storied history of supporting conservatism in the court room.
This decision was particularly surprising given Roberts' support for the same law in Texas. Louisiana’s law being overturned drew comparisons to Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, the Texas law that limited locations for patients seeking an abortion in the state. The law, then shot down by former Justice Anthony Kennedy — who sided with the Court’s known liberal judges Breyer, Sotomayor, and Ginsberg — would have taken away options for where abortions could be performed and not have reaped any medical benefits.
Now, pro-choice organizations are celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision to abolish Louisiana’s unconstitutional requirement and hoping it will create a wave of change in other states, too. Aimee Arrambide, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement, “In my state, laws like the one struck down by the Supreme Court today devastated our communities, shutting down more than half our clinics a few short years ago, and creating massive barriers to care that persist to this day. As I celebrate today’s outcome, I also know—as all Texans do—that a Supreme Court ruling in our favor is just the beginning of our fight for justice and abortion care for all.”