The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law Monday that would have curtailed access to abortions in the state and that was nearly identical to a measure the court overturned in Texas in 2016.
The ruling is a win for advocates of abortion access, who feared the case could quickly pave the way for states to impose greater restrictions on the procedure. But legal and legislative battles over the procedure are sure to continue, including in Texas, where there are more than 6 million women of reproductive age. More than 53,800 abortions were performed in Texas in 2017, including 1,1,74 for out-of-state residents, according to government data.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the liberal justices in a 5-4 decision that struck down a Louisiana law that would have required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Roberts had dissented in the 2016 decision that found Texas’ restrictions placed an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. He did not agree with the liberal justices’ reasoning Monday, instead citing the precedent set by the previous case.
"The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law," Roberts wrote.
The decision is seen as a harbinger of how a reconstituted U.S. Supreme Court may rule on abortion issues in the future. Since the Texas case was decided in 2016, the court’s ideological center has shifted to the right with the addition of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch — both appointed by President Donald Trump, who pledged to appoint pro-life justices who would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Kavanaugh and Gorsuch dissented on Monday's ruling.
State officials say requirements for admitting privileges are meant to protect women’s health and ensure doctors are qualified. Advocates of abortion access counter that these privileges are medically unnecessary because the procedure rarely results in hospitalization and when complications do arise, they often occur after the woman has left the clinic. Doctors may have their admitting privileges denied for reasons unrelated to ability or experience, including not having a track record of admitting patients due to the relative rarity of complications requiring hospitalization, critics of the Louisiana law say.
Lawyers challenging the law argued it was a carbon copy of the Texas requirement overturned in 2016. The Supreme Court said in its decision then that there was “sufficient evidence” showing that the requirement for admitting privileges shut down about half the abortion clinics in Texas — more than quadrupling the number of reproductive-age women living more than 150 miles away from one — with no proof they better protected women’s health.
During the period in which the requirement was in effect in Texas, the number of abortions performed in the state declined from around 63,000 in 2013 to 54,000 the next year, government data shows. In neighboring Louisiana, where some 10,000 women seek abortions each year, one clinic and one doctor would be left to perform the procedure if the requirement for admitting privileges went into effect, the law’s challengers said.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the court should have upheld the "commonsense" Louisiana law. "Instead, in striking down these basic health-and-safety regulations, the Supreme Court has allowed abortion clinics to endanger women," he said in a statement.
While advocates for abortion access celebrated the ruling, they expressed worry about future fights over the procedure.
“We’re relieved that the Louisiana law has been blocked today, but we’re concerned about tomorrow,” said Nancy Northup, head of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a nonprofit that represented the Louisiana abortion providers. “Unfortunately, the court’s ruling today will not stop those hell bent on banning abortion.”
The Texas Democratic Party said the decision underscores the need to elect Democratic politicians who support "every woman’s right to choose."
"Our fight for choice and quality access to health care continues this November," Texas Democratic Party senior brand director Brittany Switzer said.