Abortion Battle Goes to U.S. Supreme Court

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(PRESS RELEASE) – Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights is filing a petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the Court to strike down a law designed to close abortion clinics throughout Louisiana—a state with only three clinics left. The law would prohibit physicians from performing abortions unless they have admitting privileges at a local hospital, meaning all but one clinic would be forced to close. In February, hours before the law was scheduled to take effect, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the law so that the Center could appeal the case.

An identical admitting privileges law in Texas was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2016 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, another case brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights. In that case, the Supreme Court recognized that requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges “provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an ‘undue burden’ on their constitutional right to do so.” Yet, in September 2018, the Fifth Circuit violated Supreme Court precedent and upheld Louisiana’s admitting privileges law.

“Today, we asked the Supreme Court to step in to stop Louisiana from blatantly ignoring the Court’s most recent ruling on abortion rights. In 2016, the Court was crystal clear that states may not use medically unjustified restrictions to shut down abortion clinics,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The stakes in this case couldn’t be higher for Louisiana women, where abortion access is hanging by a thread. If states are allowed to disregard Supreme Court decisions, the constitutional protections of Roe v. Wade are in peril.”

After the Fifth Circuit upheld the Louisiana law last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights submitted a petition urging the entire Fifth Circuit to rehear the case and correct the panel’s failure to follow Supreme Court precedent. The petition was denied in a split 9-6 decision. In his dissent, Judge Dennis wrote that if the law took effect, “70% of women seeking abortions in Louisiana would be unable to obtain one, clearly constituting an undue burden on a large fraction of women.” He also noted that the law would disproportionately harm “women in poverty who seek abortions in Louisiana… who are no less entitled than other women to this constitutionally protected healthcare right.”

The law at issue, Act 620, would require any physician providing abortion services in Louisiana to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the procedure. There is no medical justification for this requirement, as abortion is extremely safe. In fact, the rate of major complications in the first trimester requiring hospitalization is about 2 in 1,000 women. Hospitals frequently deny admitting privileges to doctors who provide abortions for reasons ranging from ideological opposition to the fact that too few of their patients will ever need hospital care.

Louisiana ranks among the lowest in the country in terms of abortion access, with about 312,000 women of reproductive age per clinic. Since 2001, the number of abortion clinics in Louisiana has fallen from 11 to three as Louisiana has imposed a slew of state requirements for abortion providers.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Louisiana health care providers are currently challenging many of these other medically baseless restrictions in two other lawsuits.  

The Center for Reproductive Rights originally filed this case in August 2014. Plaintiffs are a women’s health center, doctors and their patients. Travis J. Tu is lead counsel for the plaintiffs, along with Julie Rikelman and local counsel Larry Samuel.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Kelly Krause; kkrause@reprorights.org; 917-637-3649