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February 8, 2019

SCOTUS temporarily blocks Louisiana law restricting abortions

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    The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled 5-4 to temporarily block a Louisiana law that would require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and set certain building and equipment standards for facilities where abortions are performed.

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    According to NPR, the Louisiana law is similar to a Texas law the Supreme Court struck down in 2016.


    The Supreme Court issued the ruling in a case that challenges the Louisiana law, which the state enacted in 2014 but has not yet taken effect. The law requires that abortion providers have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and sets standards that essentially require abortion facilities to become mini-hospitals with wide corridors and costly equipment.

    U.S. District Judge John deGravelles of the Federal District Court in Baton Rouge in 2017 struck down the law, ruling that it placed an undue burden on a woman's constitutional right to access abortion care. deGravelles found that only one clinic and one physician in Louisiana would be qualified to perform abortions if the law took effect, and the physician would not be able to provide abortions to the 10,000 women seeking the procedure in the state annually, even if the physician worked seven days a week.

    DeGravelles also determined that the Louisiana law is virtually identical to the Texas law the Supreme Court struck down in 2016, which would have required physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges to nearby hospitals and set similar facility standards for abortion clinics. The Supreme Court had ruled that the requirements were not needed to protect women's health and would have imposed "a substantial burden" on a woman's right to access abortion care, NPR reports.

    Louisiana, which has conceded the state's law is nearly identical to the Texas law, appealed deGravelles' ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. A three-judge panel for the appeals court ruled 2-1 to allow the Louisiana law to take effect. Judge Jerry Smith, who wrote authored the decision, wrote that the Louisiana law would not place "an undue burden" on women seeking abortions. Smith also wrote that the Louisiana law would not place the same level of burden on women as the Texas law would have, because it is easier for physicians to receive hospital admitting privileges in Louisiana.

    Abortion providers challenging the Louisiana law requested the full Fifth Circuit to rehear the case, but the full Fifth Circuit ruled 9-6 against the request. The abortion providers then appealed the case to the Supreme Court and sought an emergency order to block the law while the high court reviewed the case.

    The Supreme Court agreed to consider the case, and the Court earlier this week issued a temporary stay to delay the law's implementation for a few days, while the Supreme Court justices considered whether to issue an emergency injunction against the law. The law had been scheduled to take effect Monday.

    SCOTUS extends temporary injunction

    The Supreme Court in its 5-4 decision issued Thursday extended its temporary injunction blocking the Louisiana law while it considers the lawsuit challenging the statute. The Court did not provide an explanation for its decision.

    Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas dissented from the Court's decision to grant the injunction.

    Kavanaugh, who was the only justice to publish a dissent, acknowledged the precedent set by the 2016 Supreme Court decision, but wrote that he would have preferred to have more detailed information about the Louisiana law's projected effects. Kavanaugh wrote that the Louisiana law would not place an undue burden on women seeking abortion care if providers in the state are able to obtain admitting privileges. However, he noted if providers were not able to obtain the privileges, "then even the state acknowledges that the new law might be deemed to impose an undue burden for purposes of Whole Woman's Health."

    The Supreme Court is expected to hear the lawsuit challenging the law's merits during its next term, which begins in October.


    Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, "The Supreme Court has stepped in under the wire to protect the rights of Louisiana women. The three [abortion] clinics left in Louisiana can stay open while we ask the Supreme Court to hear our case. This should be an easy case—all that's needed is a straightforward application of the court's own precedent" (Liptak, New York Times, 2/7; Totenberg et al., NPR, 2/7; Colliver, "Pulse," Politico, 2/8).

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