Last week, the Supreme Court heard June Medical Services v. Gee— the latest in a series of state attempts to undermine previous decisions on abortion—and, in a 5-4 vote, ruled that new restrictions on abortion in Louisiana must not take effect until a lower court appeal had been decided.
Louisiana’s Act 620 would require doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles from their clinics. Although the Act was signed into law in 2014, it never went into effect because a district court declared it unconstitutional for imposing an undue burden on women seeking abortion care. Last September, the Fifth Circuit court overturned that decision.
The Center for Reproductive to immediately sprang into action, filing an appeal urging the Fifth Circuit to reverse course. When the request was denied, the group filed an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court. That was on January 25.
Lawmakers have said that Act 620 is intended to improve women’s health, but there is no medical reason to require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and data shows that such laws restrict access and have negative impacts on women’s health beyond abortion care. Instead, Act 620 would increase wait times for abortions, force women to take longer trips in order to obtain them and exacerbate the state’s already restrictive policies.
Katherine Ragsdale, CEO of the National Abortion Federation, explained in a statement that women in Louisiana can still access abortion during this time—but only after a “state-mandated, medically unnecessary ultrasound” and a “state-mandated, medically unnecessary 24-hour waiting period.”
Last week’s decision by the Court did not pass judgment on the legality of Act 620; instead, it simply brought the constitutionality into question. Ultimately, the question of whether the law can take effect is now in the hands of a lower court—but in the wake of thousands of anti-abortion restrictions that have taken shape in the last five years, the Court continues to see laws like these on their docket.
“The Supreme Court is the final defense against dangerous and unconstitutional attacks,” Ragsdale explained, “on basic rights and freedoms that affect the most important parts of our lives.”
The Louisiana law in question is almost identical, in fact, to the Texas law that was struck down by the Court in the 2016 Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt case—which the Court struck down, finding that it “provide[d] few, if any, health benefits for women seeking abortions, and constitute[d] an undue burden on their right to do so.”
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement that the decision to block the law “maintains a critical lifeline for women in Louisiana, who already face some of the bleakest outlooks for reproductive freedom.” There are only three clinics allowed to perform abortions in the Louisiana, down from the five that were open in 2014, and it was estimated that Act 620 would have closed all but one of them.
If that would not constitute an undue burden, what does?
“These regulations have no basis in medical necessity,” a pro-choice advocate said to Ms., “and disproportionately impact women of color, rural women, low-income women and other marginalized people.” That alone gives advocates good cause to fight them—and should give the Court cause to strike them down.