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What Today's Supreme Court Ruling Means For Abortion Rights

Victoria Pappas
Victoria Pappas Law Student, Cardozo School of Law
I am a current law student interested in intellectual property and tech law.
Supreme Court Abortion Ruling
On June 29th, 2020, the Supreme Court decided the case of June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo. In a 5-4 ruling, the majority opinion held that the Louisiana Act 620 is unconstitutional. 

Some legal experts said if the Supreme Court had upheld the law, it would have closed nearly every abortion clinic in Louisiana.

The Lousiana law stated “that every physician who performs or induces an abortion shall ‘have active admitting privileges at a hospital that is located not further than thirty miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced.’”

Admitting privileges are an agreement between doctors and hospitals. These agreements allow doctors to admit patients to hospitals and allow patients to receive “diagnostic and surgical services” at hospitals the doctors have this agreement with. 

Justice Breyer, writing for the majority, explained that a lot of hospitals would deny these privileges to doctors because of its disapproval of abortions.

Despite personal opinons on abortion, federal law allows and protects the right to have an abortion. The Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade declared that the Constitution gives women legal right to have an abortion under the 14th Amendment
If the Louisiana law were deemed constitutional, only one abortion clinic and one physician in the state would remain open and continue providing abortions. One doctor and one clinic would not be able to provide the approximate 10,000 people a year who receive abortion services. 

This means that women would have to travel to another state in order to recieve abortion services. 

Abortion clincs and doctors challenged this law arguing it was unnessary, does not benefit women’s health, and makes it very difficult for to get an abortion.

While this case was still pending, the Supreme Court ruled a very similar law in Texas was also unconstitutional. Justice Breyer, also writing for the majority in this case, stated that the Louisiana statute is “almost word-for-word identical to Texas’s admitting-privileges law.” 

In this case, Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court held that the Texas law makes it extremely and unnecessarily difficult for women to get abortions, violting section 1 of the 14th Amendment. 

In the case of June Medical Services, LLC Justice Breyer stated the findings of fact made by the District Court “mirror those made in Whole Woman’s Health in every relevant respect and require the same result.” 

Therefore, it was held that the Louisiana law, similar to the Texas one, was unconstitutional as it placed an “undue burden” on women to receive abortion services. 

Overall this decision helps protect the right to have an abortion. It is easier for doctors and patients to give and receive abortion services in Louisiana. It allows clinics and doctors in the state to stay open and preform abortions. Additionally, doctors will have access to admitting privileges in more hospitals than if the law went into effect.

The Importance of Justice Roberts

This ruling came as a shock to some since Justice Roberts, a conservative judge, sided with the 4  more liberal judges to make up the majority votes. He was essentially the deciding vote. 

Justice Roberts interestingly enough did not agree with the majority opinion in the Whole Women’s Health case. 

He wrote a separate opinion in June Medical Services, LLC explaining why he chose to strike down the Louisiana statute. Although he did not agree that the previous Texas law was unconstitutional, he stated that the question for the court in this case was about following the law and ruling made in Whole Women’s Health. 

He based his reasoning on the important legal principle of stare decisis. This principle, as Justice Roberts states, “requires us to treat like cases alike.” The law in question here was exactly like the law in Whole Women’s Health as they both severely restricted abortion access. 

Therefore, if the Texas law was deemed unconstitutional, the Louisiana law must also be unconstitutional. Unless a previous case uses bad reasoning, courts are required to follow the laws stated in those cases; a case cannot be overruled just because a judge does not agree with the outcome. 

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