Make no mistake: SCOTUS ruling invalidates La. abortion law, too

Despite AG Jeff Landry’s defiant statement, Louisiana’s admitting-privileges law cannot stand.

Pro choice advocates across the country are celebrating one of the most important victories for abortion rights in decades after the United States Supreme Court overturned a federal appeals court’s ruling upholding abortion restrictions in Texas that would have shuttered all but a few clinics. Today’s ruling also invalidates similar restrictions in Louisiana under Act 620, which among other things requires physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. The law had been on hold in Louisiana and five other states.

According to the Associated Press:

The justices voted 5-3 in favor of Texas clinics that had argued the regulations were only a veiled attempt to make it harder for women to get abortions in the nation’s second-most populous state.

Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion for the court held that the regulations are medically unnecessary and unconstitutionally limit a woman’s right to an abortion.

Texas had argued that its 2013 law and subsequent regulations were needed to protect women’s health. The rules required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and forced clinics to meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery.

Breyer wrote that “the surgical-center requirement, like the admitting privileges requirement, provides 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.”

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Breyer.

Ginsburg wrote a short opinion noting that laws like Texas’ “that do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion, cannot survive judicial inspection” under the court’s earlier abortion-rights decisions. She pointed specifically to Roe v. Wade in 1973 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Abortion opponents in Louisiana treated the news with understandable dismay: “Today’s Supreme Court decision is a disappointment, and my sentiments echo those of Justice Thomas and the late Justice Scalia that the court’s pro-abortion majority will alter the rules of the process when any effort to limit abortion is at is hand,” said Deanna Wallace, legislative director for Louisiana Right to Life. “The exact legal ramifications of this decision on Louisiana’s [law] are unclear at this time, as the Court relied heavily on Texas’ specific factual findings in the District Court regarding the number of clinics affected by the admitting privileges law. While this ruling doesn’t automatically invalidate Louisiana’s admitting privilege law, today’s decision does not predict a favorable forecast for its future.”

However, state Attorney General Jeff Landry, never one to blow an opportunity to prove his culture warrior bona fides, was defiant:

In 2014, our duly elected legislators almost unanimously passed Act 620 to require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court today ruled against common-sense legislation passed by the State of Texas. Our law is both factually and legally different from the Texas law. The outcome in the Texas case was heavily based upon the facts and record in that particular situation.

My office and I will be carefully reviewing the impact of the opinion, if any, on the Louisiana’s admitting privileges law; however, we remain committed to enforcing our state’s pro-life and pro-woman laws. Under my watch, the Louisiana Department of Justice will continue to do all we legally can to protect the unborn, their mothers, and all Louisiana women.

But Louisiana’s admitting privileges law is modeled after Texas’. It’s been on hold since February. Today’s ruling by the country’s highest court, as Louisiana Right to Life’s Wallace acknowledges, “does not predict a favorable future” for Louisiana’s law.