The announcement that the Supreme Court is taking up June Medical Services v. Gee proves two things about the United State’s new ultra-conservative Court bench: that it has an utter disregard for any sort of standing legal precedent, and that it clearly views itself as yet another partisan body rather than an independent branch of the U.S. government.
While neither revelation is entirely shocking, both spell disaster for the future right to bodily autonomy of those who are able to get pregnant—especially in the South.
The lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s TRAP law requiring that abortion procedures only be done by doctors who have admitting privileges at local hospitals should never have gone to the Supreme Court in the first place. The Court ruled in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016 that requiring admitting privileges for abortion providers offered no medical benefit to those seeking a termination, and instead only served to close clinics and make it even more difficult for marginalized populations to access their constitutional right to end a pregnancy.
That should have been the end of any attempts to use admitting privileges as a state-based abortion restriction, but the far-right Fifth Circuit—the same Circuit that upheld Texas’s requirement for admitting privileges even though it closed most of the abortion clinics in the state, which was the impetus for the Whole Woman’s Health court case—allowed Louisiana to enforce its own identical law, despite clear precedent stating the restriction is unconstitutional.
We here in the South are already well aware of exactly how admitting privileges are used to close clinics and block patients from accessing their constitutional right to an abortion. Alabama’s own requirement for admitting privileges, combined with another law mandating unnecessary clinic construction, forced us to spend over a year shuffling pregnant people from one clinic to another as most of the providers closed at some point during the period where the law was being appealed. Those needing abortions would call a clinic one morning with no idea if their doctor would still be able to do the procedure or the clinic would still be operating once the actual appointment date finally arrived. At the clinics that were able to see clients, the waiting rooms would overflow as we attempted to get through as many appointments as possible in one day. In some cases, patients would be waiting on the floor because there were too many people and not enough chairs to go around.
Because the waiting period to actually get an appointment could be long, and the state required two in-person visits 48 hours apart, we would often have patients who were near the end of their ability to get an abortion in our clinic in Montgomery because of gestational limits. If they couldn’t get in that day, they would have to go to a different clinic further away. In many cases, that might mean leaving the state all together.
We already know what will happen if the Supreme Court reverses the 2016 decision and allows admitting privileges requirements to go into effect, because we’ve experienced this reality. We have already seen just how badly these requirements damage the clinic landscape in the South.
In 2015, Louisiana often took on the overflow of patients from Texas when admitting privileges were required and left just a handful of clinics operating. If the Court upholds privileges in June, you can be sure Texas will appeal their own injunction—and that Mississippi and Alabama will, too. In a best-case scenario, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama could have up to four acting clinics between the three of them. In a worst case scenario, one where the Court agrees that there does not need to be an abortion clinic in the state as long as abortion itself remains technically legal, every clinic could conceivably be wiped out.
The South clearly has an abortion clinic access problem right at this very moment, and the fact that the Supreme Court has decided to hear June means some justices are ready to make that even worse. As more clinics close, the opportunity for a legal abortion will become even more expensive and labor intensive, forcing the most vulnerable Southerners—the poor, the Black and Brown, the undocumented and the young—to give birth out of a lack of any other options.
Of course, that was plan all along.