Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Supreme Court Declares Another Abortion Law Unconstitutional

By Elizabeth Nolan Brown - June 30, 2020 at 09:30AM
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The U.S. Supreme Court has handed another blow to backhanded attempts at abolishing abortion by making clinics comply with ridiculous and unnecessary regulations.

In a 5-4 decision released Monday, the court struck down a Louisiana law (Act 620) saying doctors who perform abortions must have "active admitting privileges at a hospital . . . located not further than thirty miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced." If enforced, it would have left Louisiana with just one abortion clinic statewide.

In the consolidated cases before SCOTUS, "five abortion clinics and four abortion providers challenged Act 620 before it was to take effect, alleging that it was unconstitutional because (among other things) it imposed an undue burden on the right of their patients to obtain an abortion," states the Court's summary of the case.

Previously, a U.S. District Court had declared the admitting-privileges law unconstitutional, "finding, among other things, that the law offers no significant health benefit; that conditions on admitting privileges common to hospitals throughout the State have made and will continue to make it impossible for abortion providers to obtain conforming privileges for reasons that have nothing to do with the State's asserted interests in promoting women's health and safety; and that this inability places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion," states the summary.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed the district court's ruling. The Supreme Court has now reversed the 5th Circuit's decision.

Voting to strike down the law were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor, with Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas dissenting.

Justice Breyer notes in the majority's opinion that the Louisiana law "is almost word-for-word identical to Texas' admitting-privileges law," which SCOTUS struck down in 2016.

(Read the full decision and concurring and dissenting opinions here, and more on the 2016 Texas case here.)

"There was one notable difference between the two abortion rulings," notes Reason's Damon Root. "This time around, Chief Justice Roberts sided with the Court's Democratic appointees and voted to strike down the state regulation. What changed?"

In his concurring opinion, Roberts answers that question:

I joined the dissent in Whole Woman's Health and continue to believe that the case was wrongly decided. The question today however is not whether Whole Woman's Health was right or wrong, but whether to adhere to it in deciding the present case. […] Stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike. The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons. Therefore Louisiana's law cannot stand under our precedents.

The Supreme Court also ruled yesterday that the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is unconstitutional, declined to stop federal executions from moving forward, and upheld a law saying foreign nonprofits that receive U.S. funding must pledge to oppose prostitution. (See The Volokh Conspiracy for more on these decisions.)


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