In an action shedding only limited light on where it now stands on abortion, the…
Supreme Court deals setback to pro-life movement by overturning Louisiana law regulating abortion providers
In its latest ruling on abortion, the Supreme Court delivered a sharp but far from definitive setback for pro-life opponents of the practice.
The 5-4 ruling, announced June 29 as the court was speeding toward adjournment until the fall, held that a Louisiana law requiring doctors who do abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital couldn’t stand because it was identical to a Texas law that it struck down in 2016. Louisiana had argued that there were differences of fact distinguishing its law from the one in Texas.
The majority opinion was written by Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Chief Justice John Roberts concurred in the outcome but did not sign on to the substance of Breyer’s opinion.
Dissenting were Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
Pro-lifers had hoped this case (June Medical Services v. Russo) would open the door to further state laws restricting the performance of abortions. And in that context, the Roberts opinion takes on special interest.
The Chief Justice based his agreement with the result in the case specifically on stare decisis — the legal principle that, in general, earlier court decisions should be allowed to stand rather than be reversed by new ones. As applied to the present case, he concluded, the Louisiana law had to go because it was too much like the Texas law struck down by the court four years ago.
In a statement in early March following oral arguments in the case, Kat Talalas with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities said: “Women, their bodies, and their babies are immeasurably valuable. The violent act of abortion not only destroys the lives of unborn children, but often severely harms women’s physical, psychological and spiritual health. Louisiana is right to prioritize women over abortion industry profits. All states, not only Louisiana, have a strong interest in regulating a procedure which is lethal to children and immensely damaging to women. It adds insult to injury, and speaks to the callousness of the abortion industry, that providers are seeking to overturn basic, standard protections for women seeking this life-altering procedure.”
This recent decision by the Supreme Court was indeed a disappointing outcome from a pro-life perspective. But it leaves the door open to the possibility that at some point in the not-too-distant future a five-justice Supreme Court majority might look with favor on another law that took a different approach to limiting abortion.
If so, the next round in the continuing national battle over abortion challenges states to come up with other ways of addressing the problem. One thing for sure: the Supreme Court as presently constituted is not disposed to reverse either Roe v. Wade, its 1973 decision legalizing abortion, or Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 case in which it ruled against laws that place an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions. What that leaves is now up to the ingenuity of the prolife movement and the state legislatures to work out.
Russell Shaw is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.