Supreme Court reaffirms protections for abortion-seekers in 5-4 decision.

Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s liberals to form a majority, on the basis of upholding precedent. Photo: Joe Ravi, licensed under creative commons.

Author: Sam Buisman

The Supreme Court delivered a victory to pro-choice activists on Monday by striking down a Louisiana law that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the Louisiana law was a near duplicate of a Texas law the court ruled against in 2016 for placing an “undue burden” on abortion seekers and thus violating the court’s standard for legal restrictions on abortion. Chief Justice John Roberts broke from the court’s conservative wing and sided with the court’s four more liberal justices to form a majority, swayed by the argument that the court needs to uphold precedent.

While Justice Steven Bryer wrote the court’s majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote a concurring opinion explaining that while he still thinks the court’s earlier decision in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt was wrong, he must still stand by this precedent

“I joined the dissent in Whole Woman’s Health and continue to believe that the case was wrongly decided,” wrote Roberts. “The question today however is not whether Whole Woman’s Health was right or wrong, but whether to adhere to it in deciding the present case.”

Many anti-abortion groups acknowledged that the Louisiana law was the same as the nullified Texas law but hoped that the court would reverse its 2016 decision with its now-stronger conservative majority, as conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh replaced swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018.

The plaintiffs in this case, June Medical Services v. Russo, argued that if this law were to go into effect, only one doctor in Louisiana would be permitted to perform abortions, making them responsible for the over-10,000 abortions conducted annually in the state.

This marks another significant departure from the court’s conservative majority for Cheif Justice Roberts, after recently siding with the court’s liberals in their decision that Title VII protects LGTBQ+ folks from employment discrimination.