Incredible and surprising great news from the US Supreme Court (#SCOTUS) on the June Medical Services v. Russo case from Louisiana.
SCOTUS did its job in the Louisiana June Medical Services v. Russo case, following precedent as it is supposed to do. The decision was made by one vote (5 to 4) when it should have been unanimous. And that vote by Chief Justice John Roberts could have gone either way.
On 6/29/20, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the right to abortion by striking down a law requiring doctors performing abortions at standalone clinics have “admitting privileges” at local hospitals. The “local hospitals” would have to be within 30 miles of the abortion clinic, non-existent for many rural clinics. The law had serious penalties for doctors performing an abortion without the admitting privilege were possible jail time, fines, and serious penalties for the clinics as well. Louisiana enacted that law in 2014. The Supreme Court took up the case even though it knew SCOTUS had already ruled the law unconstitutional. In 2016, SCOTUS had overturned a nearly identical law in Texas, which had shuttered half of the state’s abortion clinics in a few short years. The Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision was made in 2016, before Trump was elected and put two controversial conservative justices on the Supreme Court, moving it strongly to the right.
“If such a law were upheld, it could close abortion clinics across the country, and severely limit women’s access to the procedure, without improving women’s health in the process,” according to “Abortion rights case is first test for right-leaning US supreme court,” 3/4/20, The Guardian. This is how dangerous the law is: 20 of 41 clinics had closed in Texas when the Texas bill with same wording had been enacted in 2013. Abortion providers called it “the clinic shutdown law.”
There was another very dangerous aspect of this case. Louisiana also asked the justices to decide a separate point – should doctors and clinics be able to sue states that pass abortion restrictions on behalf of their patients? An unfavorable ruling on this would eliminate the rights of doctors and abortion providers to bring legal challenges to state and federal laws and policies. Doctors and abortion providers have been able to sue on behalf of women seeking abortions since at least the 1973 Roe v Wade landmark decision.
Such a ruling would have been devastating to abortion rights supporters. The Guardian explains, “The question is a matter of what is called “standing”, or rights to sue, in legal communities. If justices find doctors cannot sue on behalf of women seeking abortions, it could make it far more difficult to challenge even patently unconstitutional anti-abortion laws.”
The truth of the matter is that SCOTUS should not have even heard this case. But with a majority of conservatives on board – they did. Between the unnecessary admitting privileges change and Louisiana’s request to take away the ability for abortion providers to sue on behalf of their patients, this could have been really devastating.
SCOTUS still is clearly looking to take away abortion, and more cases are in process.
According to Ultraviolet, “The anti-choice lobby has more than 20 more cases in the pipeline to end Roe v. Wade. We’d be fools to trust John Roberts, and we certainly can’t rely on him if Trump gets another one or two picks for the Supreme Court. We just saw how his other two picks voted: both Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch voted to gut abortion rights–despite promising to respect and protect precedent.”
NC NOW is thrilled that people in Louisiana will not have their abortion care further limited. But women need more – there should be abortion access for all who need it, in all of the states. Only one abortion clinic is left in at least five states – Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia. The way forward is to provide more access to abortion care and other health care in Louisiana and around the country. Overturning laws that unfairly target abortion providers would help.
A subset of other articles on June Medical Services v. Russo:
Read more about this case from the time the hearings on it began at “Dangerous Times: SCOTUS to Revisit Roe v. Wade starting March 4, 2020“
“Abortion Back at the Supreme Court: June Medical Services LLC v. Russo,” 3/2/20, Kaiser Family Foundation
“The Supreme Court Stopped Anti-Abortion Momentum. For Now.” 6/29/20, The New York Times.
“Supreme Court Strikes Down Louisiana Abortion Law, With Roberts the Deciding Vote,” 6/29/20, The New York Times.
According a report on Louisiana’s abortion statistics, over 8,000 abortions were performed in Louisiana in 2018, a 7% drop from 2017. More than two-thirds of abortion patients there were women of color. According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute (an anti-abortion organization), “more than six out of 10 abortions were performed on African-American women (61 percent).”
“Abortion rights case is first test for right-leaning US supreme court,” 3/4/20, The Guardian
Supreme Court hands down major decision reaffirming abortion rights in Louisiana case, 6/29/20, NBC News. “That 2016 case set what was supposed to be a precedent that laws like Texas’ that “‘do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion’ cannot survive judicial inspection,” Ginsburg wrote in a concurring opinion, referencing a lower court case.”