In 2014, Louisian Lawmakers enacted a clinic regulation law which required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. This law effectively masqueraded as a healthcare measure while profoundly restricting women’s access to essential health services. It was designed to hold abortion clinics to the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers in spite of the fact that the vast majority of abortions in the state are performed medicinally rather than surgically. The rate of serious complications associated with these procedures is less than one half of one percent, according to the Guttmacher Institute of reproductive health.
The law was initially struck down by a trial judge, but two weeks ago the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law could be enforced. This ruling would potentially force all but one of Louisiana’s abortion clinics to close.
Before the repercussions of the ruling could be felt, however, the Supreme Court handed down a brief but stern order reversing the appeals court’s decision and allowing the clinics to remain open. Only conservative Justice Clarence Thomas noted his dissent in the decision. The Louisiana state Attorney General has since said that he would continue to defend the law, but it’s not clear how he will be able to do so in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling. The Center for Reproductive Rights has confirmed that two clinics which had already closed in response to the appellate ruling will be reopening shortly.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in other states are paying close attention to the Supreme Court’s decision.
Last week, the Supreme Court’s eight Justices convened to discuss what some people are calling the most important abortion rights case in a generation. It concerns a very similar law in Texas which has forced the closure of 82 family planning clinics throughout the state. This law, like the one in Louisiana, has also been upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Likewise, many people in Texas are speculating that this law will meet a similar fate to the one in Louisiana.
In Missouri, a state that pioneered restrictive abortion legislation in the 1980’s, abortion rights advocates are optimistic that the ruling in Louisiana could be a sign of things to come in their state as well. Currently, there is just a single Planned Parenthood clinic in the entire state of Missouri. As a result, women in Missouri travel an average of 100 miles round-trip to visit the lone clinic in St. Louis.
This decision also comes at a critical time for the Supreme Court.
In the past, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia’s vote has been critical to the Supreme Court’s rulings in cases regarding abortion legislation. In the wake of Scalia’s passing, many people expected the Supreme Court to be split in a 4-4 decision in the Texas case. As such, the 7-1 ruling in Louisiana came as something of a surprise. In particular, Anthony Kennedy’s swing vote was expected to play a key role in the decision. Now, it appears abortion rights activists in Texas and Missouri might have more support in the Supreme Court than they once thought.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court may not announce its decision in the Texas case until next year. Scalia’s death, in conjunction with calls for additional fact-finding prior to a ruling, have left many legal analysts to suspect the decision will be delayed for the time being.
In Louisiana, at least, women can rest a little easier knowing that their reproductive rights have been protected by the highest court in the land.