SCOTUS Just took a Case that Could Challenge Abortion Rights—in the Midst of the 2020 Election

Trump’s new justices have a chance to uphold a restrictive Louisiana law.

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gather for a formal group portrait to include the new Associate Justice, top row, far right, at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

The Supreme Court decided Friday to hear June Medical Services v. Gee, a Louisiana case that could greatly restrict abortion access across the country and overturn a previous ruling on the issue. 

The case concerns a 2014 Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their facility. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the law is nearly identical to a Texas statute that also required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The Texas law was ultimately deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2016. Despite that precedent, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decided to uphold the Louisiana law in the face of a challenge by abortion providers, and in February, the Supreme Court agreed to temporarily block Louisiana’s law pending a final decision.

As Mother Jones reported in March after the Supreme Court first made temporarily halted the Louisiana law:

The…law will shutter three of the four clinics left in Louisiana. This means that for many women, the closest option will be the clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, which is the only clinic remaining in Mississippi, where strict abortion regulations took the number of clinics from 14 in 1981 to just 1 in 2012.

The Louisiana law, which was signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2014, requires physicians who perform abortions to have “active admitting privileges at a hospital that is located not further than thirty miles from the location at which the abortion in performed.”

Attorneys for the abortion providers who would be affected argue that the precedent established by the earlier Texas case is clear and that the Louisiana law is therefore obviously unconstitutional. But one major difference between the 2016 decision and the current case is the composition of the court. Since 2016, President Donald Trump has appointed two conservative Justices—Brett Kavanaugh, and Justice Neil Gorsuch—who are both believed to be hostile to abortion rights. In February, Kavanaugh dissented from the majority decision to temporarily stay the law until the court could make a final decision on the merits.

TJ Tu, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, who is representing one of the abortion clinics and two physicians impacted by the case, is hopeful that despite the new justices, the Supreme Court will uphold the 2016 precedent.

“Our view is that the makeup of the court should not alter the requirements of the constitution,” says Tu. “Because our case is so clearly controlled by an existing precedent, we’re confident that all of the Justices and certainly a majority could easily reach a decision in our favor.”

If the majority of justices decide to uphold the Louisiana law, they could do so in one of two ways. “If the court ruled…that Whole Women’s Health [the 2016 case] is still good law but is applied [differently] from state to state…that’s a setback for abortion rights, but it may not to be a devastating one,” explains Stephen Wermiel a professor of constitutional law at American University. But, he adds, “if the court overruled Whole Women’s Health, that would be devastating.”

Although a lot of attention has been paid to the rash of bills earlier this year banning abortion in states like Alabama, Louisiana, and Missouri, Tu argues that restrictive laws like admitting privilege requirements can do just as much, if not more, damage.

“The public imagination is so captured by all of the abortion bans that have been enacted, but it is cases like ours that are a much greater threat to abortion access,” says Tu. “In states like Louisiana, they are going to effectively make abortion completely out of reach before the Supreme Court ever has the chance to take up the question of Roe v. Wade.”

For conservative justices who might be unsure whether or not they want to overturn Roe, going after Whole Women’s Health could be an easy way to erode abortion rights, argues Wermiel.

“If you believe Roe and Casey [a 1992 case reaffirming abortion rights] were wrong and that the Constitution doesn’t protect the right to abortion, but you’re not sure whether you…are prepared to go that far,” he says, “this an easy first step.”  

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate