The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in June Medical Services v. Russo (formerly June Medical Services v. Gee) on June 29, 2020–and threw out an unconstitutional Louisiana abortion restriction. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the opinion in the 5-4 ruling. Read about the Supreme Court’s decision in June Medical Services v. Russo here.
Case Caption: June Medical Services L.L.C. et al. v. Stephen Russo — U.S. Supreme Court Case No. 18-1323 / No. 18-1460. The Center represents three plaintiffs: June Medical Services (the corporate name of the Center’s longtime client Hope Medical Group, an independent abortion clinic in Louisiana), and two unnamed “Doe” physicians who provide abortion care.
The defendant is Stephen Russo, Interim Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. We refer to the defendant as “Louisiana.”
Lead Counsel for the plaintiffs: Julie Rikelman, Senior Director, US Litigation, Center for Reproductive Rights; and Travis J. Tu, Senior Counsel, US Litigation, Center for Reproductive RightsCo-counsel: O’Melveny & Myers LLP
In 2014, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a challenge to Act 620, a Louisiana law requiring doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital within 30 miles of where the abortion is provided. We argued that the law is unconstitutional because it imposed significant burdens on abortion access without providing any benefit to women’s health or safety. Under decades of Supreme Court precedent, this constitutes an unconstitutional “undue burden.” Violations of Act 620 by a physician are punishable by imprisonment, fines, and civil liability. A clinic that employs an abortion provider without admitting privileges also may lose its license.
The U.S. District Court in Louisiana granted our request to temporarily block the law from going into effect—a decision which the Fifth Circuit subsequently reversed. The Center filed an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court, which in March of 2016 reinstated the temporary restraining order.
Three months later, in June 2016, the Supreme Court decided Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, striking down a Texas admitting privilege law that is identical to Act 620 as unconstitutional under the undue burden standard. In light of Whole Woman’s Health, the U.S. District Court in Louisiana declared Act 620 to be unconstitutional in April 2017.
The District Court found that:
“The active admitting privileges requirement of Section A(2)(a) of Act 620 is found to be a violation of the substantive due process right of Louisiana women to obtain an abortion, a right guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution as established in Roe v. Wade….”
Act 620 “does not conform to prevailing medical standards and will not improve the safety of abortion in Louisiana,” and there is no evidence in Louisiana “of any instance in which an admitting privileges requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment.”
Act 620 would “cripple women’s ability to have an abortion” because Louisiana “would be left with one” abortion provider at one clinic,” and “A single remaining physician cannot possibly meet the level of services needed” by approximately 10,000 women who obtain abortions in Louisiana each year.
As a result, many women “will have to travel much longer distances,” imposing “severe burdens, which will fall most heavily on low-income women.”
Louisiana appealed that decision to the Fifth Circuit, which reversed the District Court decision on September 26, 2018, by a vote of 2-1, declaring Act 620 to be constitutional. The Fifth Circuit then refused the Center’s request to have the case reheard by the full appeals court.
In its opinion, the majority did not question the foundational precedent of Roe v. Wade and purported to follow the more recent precedent of Whole Woman’s Health, but held that Act 620 does not violate the undue burden standard.
To prevent the law from going into effect, the Center requested an emergency stay from the Supreme Court. That stay was granted in February 2019 by a 5-4 vote. Chief Justice Roberts joined the majority in issuing the stay, while Justice Kavanaugh filed a dissent. The stay temporarily blocked enforcement of Act 620 while the U.S. Supreme Court decided whether to review the case. We filed our writ of certiorari (formal request to have the Court hear the case) in April.
On October 4, 2019, the Supreme Court granted our writ of certiorari to hear the case. The stay of Act 620 remains in effect while the case proceeds to a hearing before the Supreme Court. Oral arguments in the case were held on March 4, 2020. The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in June Medical Services v. Russo on June 29, 2020–and threw out an unconstitutional Louisiana abortion restriction. Read about the Supreme Court’s decision in June Medical Services v. Russo here.