In a somewhat surprising decision, the Supreme Court postponed enforcement of a Louisiana law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The law would effectively close all but one of the state’s abortion clinics, and is similar to one from Texas that the Court struck down in 2016, finding such restrictions an “undue burden” on woman’s access to abortion, in violation of the Constitution.
But the case isn’t over yet. The law is only being put on hold until the justices can hear further arguments from both sides.
Long and Winding (Legal) Road
Louisiana’s law has been subject to judicial review before, and the Supreme Court actually previously blocked it back in 2016:
- 2014: Louisiana law enacted, and requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges and imposed strict regulations on surgical centers;
- 2016: The Court blocks the law from going into effect in March;
- 2016: The Court decides Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, striking down Texas’s near identical law.
- 2017: The Federal District Court in Baton Rouge finds Louisiana’s law unconstitutional, citing the Supreme Court’s recent Texas opinion and finding that doctors were denied admitting privileges for reasons unrelated to their competence; and then
- 2018: A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, reversed that decision and upheld the law, saying the law’s benefits outweighed the burdens it imposed.
Now, the Supreme Court is again putting the law on hold. Next, abortion providers are expected to file their petition for review, which is due in mid-April. Oral arguments in the case would likely be held later this year or early next, with a decision possible by the end of June 2020.
Of course, the composition of the Court has changed significantly over the past few years, and many expected the current Justices to be less amenable to abortion rights. So it was somewhat surprising that Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Court’s four liberal Justices in voting for the stay, especially since he voted against striking down Texas’s law in 2016. Less surprising was new Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s dissent. While conceding the precedent of the Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health, Kavanaugh said he would’ve let the Louisiana law go into effect, effectively allowing states to begin enforcing abortion restrictions the Court had already deemed unconstitutional.