Louisiana asked the Supreme Court Friday to allow a law to go into effect that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital — a measure opponents have argued could decimate “safe and legal” abortions in the state.
A federal appeals court upheld the law last fall but in February, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with his four liberal colleagues to put the law on hold until all nine justices could consider whether to take up the case. The law requires doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where the abortion is performed.
Louisiana argues that the law is necessary to provide a higher level of physician competence, but critics say there is no medical justification for the law and it amounts to a veiled attempt to unlawfully restrict abortion.
The measure is almost identical to a Texas law that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016 — but that was when there were only eight justices, including Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired last year. Since that decision, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have joined the bench, and emboldened conservative states and anti-abortion rights interest groups are hopeful that the conservative justices will vote to further restrict abortion rights.
Louisiana argued in court papers filed on Friday that the law is “based on a lengthy history of abortion clinic safety violations reflecting the clinics’ indifference to doctor qualifications and the threat that indifference poses to women.”
Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, whose group is challenging the law said that it was “modeled after” the Texas law and that the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals “blatantly disregarded” Supreme Court precedent in upholding it.
The group had asked the court in April to either take up the case for next term, or simply reverse the appeals court opinion without holding oral arguments.
Critics of the law fear that although Roberts took their side on the emergency stay, he may not rule the same way if the full case is before him and the conservatives have the opportunity, through a reasoned opinion, to distinguish the Louisiana law from the 2016 ruling.
The Supreme Court said in 2016 that the restrictions in the Texas law constituted an undue burden on a woman’s right to seek an abortion.
Louisiana’s Unsafe Abortion Protection Act has been blocked since its enactment in 2014.
Louisiana has already stated that if the justices allow the law to go into effect, the state would begin a 45-day “transition” period to review how it would impact the clinics.
Supporters of abortion rights fear that the court’s conservative majority will move to chip away at abortion rights if not eventually all but overturn the landmark Supreme Court opinions of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
Louisiana has already passed a “heartbeat bill” banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, with no exceptions for rape or incest. The bill only goes into effect should a federal appeals court uphold a similar Mississippi law.