Access to Abortion


Two doctors from the Center for Reproductive Rights have requested that the Supreme Court block a lower-court ruling (June Medical Services v Gee), which upholds a Louisiana law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital no more than 30 miles away. De facto, the law would only enable one physician to provide abortion to the entire state of Louisiana. The doctors seek to put the decision on hold – preventing the state from enforcing the law – in order to gain time to file a petition for review.

In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 against almost identical law in Texas (Whole Women’s Health v Hellerstedt), ruling that the law rendered no medical benefits and would harm women by reducing access to abortion. Lower courts in Mississippi and Oklahoma have heeded the 2016 Supreme Court ruling, but not in Louisiana. The justices’ ruling on the present case will give more insight into how a conservative Supreme Court might approach abortion cases, moving forward. If the justices fail to block the law from going into effect, abortion will only be available de jure in Louisiana.

The federal district court had initially struck down Louisiana’s law, reasoning that the law does little for women’s health and would cripple women’s ability to have an abortion. In September 2018, however, the 5th Circuit US Court of Appeal reversed and rejected the challengers’ request to rehear the case. If the law goes into effect, only one doctor will be able to perform abortions for early stages of pregnancy and not a single doctor will be capable after 17 weeks of pregnancy. Some women will seek out unlicensed abortion or be forced to carry pregnancy to term, since one doctor will be unable to meet the demands of 10,000 women seeking abortions in the state. Furthermore, if clinics are forced to close while the law is being enforced, it is unlikely that many will ever reopen.

Justice Samuel Alito has put an administrative hold on the law until February 7th, in order to give the Supreme Court more time to review court filings and decide whether to grant petition or block the law.

This post was written by a CCLA-PBSC Rights Watch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.