Fight for Abortion Rights Returns to Supreme Court

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Justices have agreed to hear a Center case out of Louisiana that could determine the future of abortion rights.

10.04.2019

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Today the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear June Medical v. Gee, a case brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights that challenges a Louisiana law designed to close clinics and undermine access to abortion. The outcome of this case will have a profound impact on the future of abortion rights across the country.

An emergency stay secured by the Center in February will remain in place in Louisiana, allowing clinics to remain open as litigation continues.  Oral arguments are expected early next year, with a final decision before the end of the term in June 2020.  

The case challenges a Louisiana law (Act 620) that would force every abortion clinic in the state to close except for one. The disputed law, which prevents doctors from providing abortion services unless they have secured admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, is identical to a restriction struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional in 2016’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case litigated and won by the Center.

A Clinic Shutdown Law

Admitting privilege requirements are opposed by major medical groups like the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as medically unnecessary. Abortion is a safe procedure with a complication rate near zero. Lower courts have found that admitting privileges do nothing to improve the health and safety of women who seek abortion care.

Hospitals frequently deny admitting privileges to doctors who provide abortions, for reasons ranging from ideological opposition, fear of backlash, or the fact that their patients rarely ever need emergency care. 

Requiring credentials that doctors don’t need and can’t get is simply an underhanded way to prevent them from providing constitutionally protected abortion care. 

In Whole Woman’s Health, the Supreme Court found that this combination – limiting access to reproductive care while providing no medical benefit whatsoever – is an unconstitutional undue burden on the fundamental right to abortion.

Louisiana’s law is identical to the Texas restriction the Court declared unconstitutional just three years ago.  State lawmakers modeled Act 620 on Texas’s law after recognizing its “tremendous success” in closing clinics there.

The facts, the law, and the Constitution have not changed since that law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016.  “Louisiana is openly defying the Supreme Court’s decision from just three years ago, in which they found an identical Texas law unconstitutional,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We are counting on the Court to follow its precedent, otherwise, clinics will needlessly close and there will be just one doctor left in the entire state to provide abortion care.”

The stakes are high for women in Louisiana. The number of abortion clinics in Louisiana has fallen from seven in 2011 to three today.  If the admitting privileges law were to go into effect, there would only be one abortion provider remaining in a state with approximately one million women of reproductive age.  

“Louisiana has tried everything under the sun to shut us down. The situation here is already dire,” said Kathaleen Pittman, clinic administrator at Hope Medical Group, a plaintiff in this case. Pittman said she is hopeful that the Court will recognize “how devastating this law would be for women in our state.”

The Center originally filed this case in August 2014. Plaintiffs are Hope Medical Group, a women’s health center, doctors, and their patients. Julie Rikelman and Travis J. Tu of the Center for Reproductive Rights are lead counsel for plaintiffs, along with co-counsel O'Melveny & Myers LLP.

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