The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to hear oral arguments surrounding a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges to a hospital within a 30-mile radius — a case that could shape the future of legal abortion in the country.
The case, June Medical Services v. Gee, will mark the first major abortion case the court will hear since the nomination of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch by President Donald Trump. Those appointments gave the highest court a conservative majority.
The 2014 law has not yet gone into effect due to legal challenges. The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — a court that covers Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas and whose rulings tend to skew more conservative — upheld the law in September 2018. It was set to take effect in February until the Supreme Court put it on hold.
Abortion rights activists argue that Louisiana's law is nearly identical to a Texas admitting privileges law that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in 2016 and that the case should have been heard without oral arguments. In its Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt ruling, the court stated that Texas' restrictions on the procedure must not place an "undue burden" on women seeking it.
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They also argue that the law would leave only one physician able to provide abortions in Louisiana and close two of the state's three remaining clinics.
“Louisiana is openly defying the Court’s 2016 ruling that states can’t use sham medical regulations to shut down clinics,” said Michelle Erenberg, executive director of Lift Louisiana, an organization that advocates for abortion rights, in a statement. “We are hopeful that the Court will uphold the rule of law, protect our constitutional rights, and be independent of partisan politics. The people of Louisiana shouldn’t be denied their rights because of where they live.”
But anti-abortion activists like Dorinda Bordlee, a consulting attorney to the anti-abortion group Louisiana Right to Life, argued that the Texas law differed from Louisiana's law because it required abortion providers to meet the strict standards required of surgical centers.
“Louisiana’s law does not include the ambulatory surgical center requirement, and the facts of Louisiana’s different geography and demographics necessitate a different result,” Bordlee said in a statement February.
The Supreme Court begins its session Oct. 7 and hasn't announced when it will hear the case, but a ruling could like come by next summer.
In its ruling, the court could reverse the Fifth Circuit Court's ruling, uphold it or entirely reverse Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that established a woman's right to legal abortion prior to viability on the basis of privacy.
The court has not yet decided whether it will take up an Indiana case challenging a 2016 law that would require a woman to have an ultrasound — and be given the choice to view the image and listen to the heartbeat — 18 hours before obtaining an abortion.
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