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Supreme Court halts closure of abortion clinics in Louisiana

On Feb. 7, the Supreme Court granted an emergency request from the Center for Reproductive Rights, blocking a law that would have shut down some of the last three abortion clinics in Louisiana . The law, which was set to take effect on February 8, would prohibit physicians from performing abortions unless they have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The justices voted 5-4 to grant the stay, with a dissenting opinion from Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

An identical admitting privileges law in Texas was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2016 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights. In that case, the Supreme Court found that requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges “provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an ‘undue burden’ on their constitutional right to do so.”

“The Supreme Court has stepped in under the wire to protect the rights of Louisiana women,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The three clinics left in Louisiana can stay open while we ask the Supreme Court to hear our case. This should be an easy case—all that’s needed is a straightforward application of the court’s own precedent.”

The Supreme Court’s stay comes after the Fifth Circuit upheld Louisiana’s admitting privileges law in a split 2-1 ruling last September. In January, the Fifth Circuit refused to rehear the case and also refused to put the law on hold while The Center petitioned for certiorari. In his dissent, Judge James Dennis warned that the Fifth Circuit’s decision to uphold the law would have “devastating effects on women’s rights to abortion”. He also noted that, “Women in poverty, who make up a high percentage of women seeking abortions in Louisiana, would be especially burdened by the closures, because any travel, child care, and required time off work would burden them disproportionately”.

The law at issue, Act 620, would require any physician providing abortion services in Louisiana to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the procedure. There is no medical justification for this requirement, as abortion is extremely safe. In fact, the rate of major complications requiring hospitalization is about 2 in 1,000 women. Hospitals frequently deny admitting privileges to doctors who provide abortions for reasons ranging from ideological opposition to the fact that too few of their patients will ever need hospital care.

The Center for Reproductive Rights originally filed this case in August, 2014.  Plaintiffs are a women’s health center, doctors and their patients. Julie Rikelman and Travis J. Tu are lead counsel for plaintiffs, along with local counsel Larry Samuel.

Cases:  June Medical Services v. Gee

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