In a Blow to Women’s Health and Rights in Louisiana, Fifth Circuit Completely Disregards U.S. Supreme Court Precedent

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(PRESS RELEASE) Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a Louisiana law that will shutter abortion clinics throughout the state by requiring physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The law is nearly identical to a Texas clinic shutdown law that was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016.

“The U.S. Supreme Court held in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that admitting privileges laws do nothing to benefit women’s health and violate women’s constitutional rights to access abortion.  Had the Fifth Circuit followed Supreme Court precedent, they would have struck down Louisiana’s admitting privileges law,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Provisions of the Louisiana law require any physician providing abortion services to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital within 30 miles of where the abortion is performed. The requirement has no medical justification and will prevent thousands of women in Louisiana from receiving the constitutionally guaranteed care they need. 

In Whole Woman’s Health, the Supreme Court declared that the nearly identical Texas law “provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes and ‘undue burden’ on their constitutional right to do so.” 

Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham dissented in today’s Fifth Circuit ruling.  In dissent, Judge Higginbotham observed that “the majority today fails to meaningfully apply the undue burden test” applied in Whole Women’s Health.  For that reason, Judge Higginbotham concluded that today’s decision “ought not stand.”

“If the Fifth Circuit’s ruling stands, many doctors in Louisiana will no longer be able to provide abortion services, forcing women to forfeit their constitutional rights to access safe and legal abortion. This would disproportionately impact low-income women. Socioeconomic status and geography should never dictate a woman’s ability to exercise her fundamental human rights,” said Northup. “We will take every legal recourse to ensure that this unconstitutional law does not take effect.”