The Supreme Court announced Friday that they plan to take up a major abortion case, the first reviewed by the Supreme Court with its newest member, Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The case, June Medical Services v. Gee, pertains to a Louisiana law passed in 2014 that requires hospital admitting privileges for abortion clinics within 30 miles of the facility.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing a Louisiana abortion clinic and two doctors, say that the law could result in the closure of nearly all of the abortion clinics in the state. They argue that the law unduly burdens doctors at abortion clinics, which are often not located near a hospital that will grant them admitting privileges.
The Supreme Court had already placed a temporary block on the Louisiana law from going into effect.
Admitting privilege laws have been introduced in many states as part of a nationwide anti-abortion effort. In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled on a nearly identical law in Texas, which the court struck down. Then-Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired in July 2018, ruled in favor of the opponents of the law, along with the Supreme Court’s four liberal justices. Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, along with the more conservative Justices on the court.
Now, with two new justices appointed by President Donald Trump on the court, both of whom have conservative backgrounds and were championed by anti-abortion groups, the court will reconsider this issue.
The ruling could also have larger implications for abortion rights, potentially undermining the definition of an “undue burden,” a benchmark used by the Supreme Court to determine whether or not a law restricting abortion is unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade.
The court’s 2016 opinion stated that needing hospitalization for an abortion was very rare and that women were more at risk of not receiving any care at all than receiving it without hospital-admitting privileges.
The Texas law provided “few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an ‘undue burden’ on their constitutional right to do so,” the 2016 opinion in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt reads.
Since Kavanaugh was confirmed to the court in October 2018, joining Justice Neil Gorsuch who was confirmed the year before, anti-abortion advocates passed and pushed abortion laws they knew were guaranteed to be challenged in court, in the hopes that the Supreme Court would take up one of the cases and potentially deliver a blow to abortion access throughout the country. This is the first such case to make it to the high court with both Trump justices in place, though due to its specificity it is unlikely to overturn Roe v. Wade entirely, but could significantly chip away at protections for abortion access.
The court is also considering whether to review another abortion law being challenged in Indiana. That law, which was passed in 2016, requires a woman to have an ultrasound, and be offered the option of hearing a fetus’s heartbeat and viewing the image, before having an abortion. It also includes an 18-hour waiting period before the procedure.
A law requiring ultrasounds for abortion already exists for Indiana’s few remaining abortion clinics. The groups challenging the law, including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that the addition of the waiting period would greatly increase the expense and burden for women who often have to travel long distances and take off work to obtain the abortion.