Two major provisions of a 2013 Texas abortion law, one of which is nearly identical to a Louisiana law passed a year later in that it required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, were struck down Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Texas law, unlike the Louisiana statute, also mandated abortion facilities to be constructed like surgical centers.
"Both the admitting-privileges and the surgical-center requirements place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violate the Constitution," the nation’s highest court wrote of the Texas law in a 5-3 decision.
A 4-4 decision would have left a prior 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the Texas case in effect and allowed continued enforcement of the two provisions.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan voted to declare the Texas law unconstitutional. The dissents came from Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr.
In Louisiana, state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved their version of the law, which was backed by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, voted for the law when he was a legislator in 2014 and on Monday he stressed that he’s still anti-abortion as ever, while respecting the law of the land.
"We must respect the decision of the United States Supreme Court," Edwards said in a statement. "As I have reiterated during my campaign and now in office, I was a pro-life legislator who supported responsible regulations on clinics performing abortions, and I am a pro-life governor who wants to do everything we can to provide women with quality health care and reduce the number of abortions performed in Louisiana. Those remain my goals today as we strive to provide quality health care to women and reduce abortions in Louisiana."
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But Attorney General Jeff Landry said he believes Louisiana’s law is different from Texas’s version.
"Unfortunately, the Supreme Court today ruled against common-sense legislation passed by the State of Texas," he said in a statement. "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."
Landry said his office is reviewing the opinion and evaluating the state’s laws.
"However, we remain committed to enforcing our state’s pro-life and pro-woman laws," he said. "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."
In addition to the admitting privilege requirement, the 2014 Louisiana law requires doctors who perform more than five abortions a year to maintain proper licensing, subject to safety and health inspections by the state.
The state law was struck down by U.S. District Judge John deGravelles, of Baton Rouge, in January, but the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit overruled him in February and allowed the law to go into affect — an action that left only two abortion clinics open. But the U.S. Supreme Court in March stepped in and blocked enforcement of the Louisiana law, allowing the clinics to remain open.
The 5th Circuit also had allowed enforcement of the Texas law, which previously required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or a "working arrangement" with a doctor who had such privileges to ensure the necessary backup in case of medical complications.
Abortion rights advocates said Monday they believe the U.S. Supreme Court action would end the back and forth uncertainty surrounding Louisiana’s clinics.
"The ruling is an important first step in dismantling medically unnecessary laws designed to make it harder for women to end a pregnancy, but as long as Louisiana’s lawmakers continue to pass these sham laws, we will continue our work to protect safe and legal access to clinics," Michelle Erenberg, executive director of Lift Louisiana, said in a statement.
Louisiana Family Forum President Gene Mills had a different take on the high court’s decision.
"It appears the Supreme Court is more interested in providing immunity for abortionists than guaranteeing safety for women," he said.
A disappointed Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, said the group will continue to work with the Legislature and governor to enact "common-sense regulations" that will protect women and their unborn children.
"With this decision, the Supreme Court gives license to abortion businesses to operate as they see fit, binding a state’s hands to protect the safety of women," he said.
This summer, the Legislature passed additional laws restricting abortions in the state, including one that imposes a 72 hour waiting period to receive the procedure. Louisiana joins four other states who also have the nation’s longest waiting period.
The state health department estimates that 10,000 women obtain abortions in Louisiana annually.
The Texas law led to rougly half of that state’s abortion clinics shutting down, the Supreme Court said Monday.
"Those closures meant fewer doctors, longer wait times, and increased crowding," wrote Justice Breyer, who authored the court’s majority opinion.
"When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners ... at great risk to their health and safety," Justice Ginsburg added.