WASHINGTON — Lawyers for three Louisiana abortion clinics and two doctors went to the Supreme Court on Friday afternoon, asking the justices to halt an appeals court ruling that the lawyers say will lead to only one doctor being permitted to perform abortions in the state.
A trial court had previously issued a preliminary injunction preventing the state from enforcing a state law that requires all doctors performing abortions at clinics to "[h]ave active admitting privileges at a hospital that is located not further than thirty miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced and that provides obstetrical or gynecological health care services."
On Wednesday, however, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of the district court’s injunction pending the state’s appeal. In other words, the law is enforceable while clinics and doctors appeal the ruling.
The clinics and doctors challenging the law, however, say the outcome is dramatic — and immediate — and have asked for the Supreme Court to vacate the 5th Circuit's stay. Further, they ask for the justices to lift the stay temporarily while the court considers this request.
"Because of the Fifth Circuit’s stay order, which was based on a demonstrably wrong application of the undue burden standard, all but two doctors in the state have been forced to stop providing abortions and turn away women with scheduled appointments, and one of those will shortly be forced to cease, absent relief from this Court. Louisiana will then be left with only one physician providing abortions," the lawyers state in the application with the court.
The application is directed to Justice Clarence Thomas, who by an order of the court on Thursday was assigned to hear such requests out of the 5th Circuit. (They previously had been heard by Justice Antonin Scalia, who died earlier this month.) While Thomas can take action on the application by himself, such requests are usually referred by so-called "circuit" justices to the full court for consideration.
The request comes to the court as the justices prepare to hear a case on March 2 over similar abortion provider restrictions out of Texas. There, as well, the 5th Circuit had allowed the restrictions to go into effect during the litigation. In that case, the Supreme Court put the law on hold until it can resolve the underlying challenge to the law.
The vote there was 5-4 in favor of the stay, with Scalia being one of the dissenting justices. As such, only three of the justices opposed to the stay in the Texas case remain on the court.
Louisiana officials responded to the clinics and doctors' request on Wednesday afternoon, March 2, opposing the request. On the morning of March 1, Justice Clarence Thomas had asked the state to respond by Wednesday afternoon.