U.S. Supreme Court Hears Pivotal Abortion Rights Case
Center for Reproductive Rights urged Justices to strike down Louisiana law designed to shut down abortion clinics; The law is identical to one struck down only four years ago
Thousands rallied, including reproductive rights, health and justice leaders, celebrity advocates, and legislators
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in June Medical Services v. Russo–the first abortion rights case to be heard under the current makeup of the Supreme Court. The case challenges a Louisiana law that would shut down every abortion clinic in the state except for one. The law (Act 620) bans doctors from providing abortion care unless they have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
In a 2016 case also brought and won by the Center — Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt — the Supreme Court struck down an identical law in Texas, finding that admitting privilege requirements pose an “undue burden” on the right to abortion and are medically unnecessary. In the courtroom today, Center for Reproductive Rights’ Senior Litigation Director Julie Rikelman argued to the Justices that Act 620 should meet the same fate, as nothing has changed since 2016 that would justify a different outcome. Rikelman also argued that the law would close an even greater percentage of clinics in Louisiana than in Texas, and that the medical consensus opposing this kind of law has only grown stronger since 2016.
The Center also argued against Louisiana’s claim that abortion providers and clinics lack legal standing to fight for their patients’ rights in court. Rikelman argued that the state’s attack on standing contradicts 40 years of precedent, and is designed to insulate unconstitutional abortion restrictions from being challenged in court. Nearly all abortion cases today are brought by doctors and clinics. If they did not have third-party standing, patients would have to initiate court proceedings themselves and file a case while still pregnant, at the same time they are urgently seeking abortion care.
Act 620 and the State’s challenge to standing have been denounced by a coalition of leading voices in medicine, law, and public policy who joined with abortion patients and advocates to submit 27 amicus briefs to the Supreme Court in support of the Center’s case.
While the Supreme Court heard arguments, thousands of supporters gathered outside the courthouse to rally against a growing tide of political attacks on women’s reproductive rights. More than 40 speakers addressed the crowd including: celebrities Elizabeth Banks and Busy Philipps; legislators such as Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Judy Chu (D-CA); abortion providers; faith leaders; and women who have had abortions and experienced first-hand the barriers created by anti-abortion laws.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“We should not have to refight legal battles that we’ve already won, but states like Louisiana are in open defiance of the Constitution and the Supreme Court’s rulings. It’s alarming and unacceptable that in 2020, some states are still hell bent on denying women access to reproductive healthcare. Once again, the Court must step in to block these clinic shutdown laws and ensure that the promise of Roe v. Wade is realized for all women.”
Said Kathaleen Pittman, clinic administrator at Hope Medical Group (lead plaintiff):
“Louisiana lawmakers have tried every which way to end abortion care in our state. This law is one of many attempts to shut us down and prevent our patients from accessing abortion services. I am optimistic that the Court will recognize Act 620 for what it is — an attempt to regulate abortion care out of existence. This law would be devastating for the women in our state and would no doubt have repercussions nationwide.”
Said Julie Rikelman, Senior Director of US Litigation at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“We are back at the Supreme Court today fighting a law identical to the one we defeated in 2016. We emphasized to the Justices today that nothing has changed in the last four years that would warrant a different ruling. In fact, the medical consensus has only grown stronger that admitting privileges are medically unnecessary and actually harm women by closing clinics and putting abortion out of reach. The Supreme Court declared Texas’s law unconstitutional after it closed roughly half the clinics in that state. In Louisiana, the impact would be even more severe, closing all but one clinic. We are confident the Court will agree that a law it ruled unconstitutional four years ago cannot be constitutional today.”
To watch a live stream of the rally in Washington, D.C, click here.
CRR Photos and b-roll of the rally will be distributed for press use later today.
For more background and history on this case, click here.
Case Caption: June Medical Services L.L.C. et al. v. Stephen Russo, Interim Secretary, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals – 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 physicians (identified as “John Does” for their own protection) who provide abortion care.
The defendant is Stephen Russo, the Interim Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. Dr. Rebekah Gee, former Secretary of the State Department of Health and Hospitals, was listed as the respondent-cross-petioner until early February 2020. We refer to the defendant as “Louisiana.”
Lead Counsel for the plaintiffs: Julie Rikelman and Travis J. Tu with the Center for Reproductive Rights, along with co-counsel O’Melveny & Myers LLP.