Supreme Court Strikes Down Louisiana Abortion Restrictions
The law, Judge deGravelles ruled, was essentially identical to the one from Texas that the Supreme Court struck down in the 2016 decision, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for the majority in that decision, said courts must consider whether the benefits claimed for laws that put restrictions on abortion outweigh the burdens they put on the constitutional right to the procedure.
There was no evidence that the Texas law’s admitting-privileges requirement “would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment,” Justice Breyer wrote. But there was good evidence, he added, that the requirement caused the number of abortion clinics in Texas to drop to 20 from 40.
The vote in that decision was 5 to 3, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joining the court’s four-member liberal wing to form a majority. It was decided by an eight-member court after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia that February, and since then, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch was appointed to succeed Justice Scalia and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh to succeed Justice Kennedy.
In 2018, a divided three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in New Orleans reversed Judge deGravelles’s ruling and upheld the Louisiana law notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s decision in the Texas case, saying that the law’s benefits outweighed the burdens it imposed.
“Unlike Texas, Louisiana presents some evidence of a minimal benefit,” Judge Jerry E. Smith wrote for the majority. In particular, he wrote, “the admitting privileges requirement performs a real, and previously unaddressed, credentialing function that promotes the well-being of women seeking abortion.”
Judge Smith faulted doctors seeking to provide abortions in the state for not trying hard enough to obtain admitting privileges and said abortions would remain available after the law went into effect.
In dissent, Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham wrote that the majority’s ruling was impossible to reconcile with the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in the Texas case and with its 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which banned states from placing an “undue burden” on the constitutional right to abortion.