What Just HappenedA Victory for Abortion Rights

People participate in an abortion rights rally outside of the Supreme Court as the justices hear oral arguments in the June Medical Services v. Russo case on March 4, 2020 in Washington, D.C. The Louisiana abortion case is the first major abortion case to make it to the Supreme Court since Donald Trump became president. (Photo credit: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

Our Take

This morning, the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that mandated abortion providers in the state to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Though many of the most recent restrictive measures passed by states including Ohio, Kentucky, and Georgia have been crafted in the name of fetal personhood, the Louisiana Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, passed in 2014, was ostensibly passed to “protect” women’s health and safety by making abortion providers jump through medically unnecessary hoops—and sharply curtailing patient access to abortion providers. Much like the 2016 Supreme Court case Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, today’s June Medical Services v. Russo decision was a rejection of the disingenuous antichoice dialogue that has long disguised hostile attitudes toward abortion with a paternalistic concern for patient health—what the judge who struck down the original law in 2017 called “a solution in search of a problem.”

Notably, June is the first SCOTUS ruling on abortion since conservative, Trump-appointed justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh were confirmed to the court. Both were chosen from the Federalist Society’s famed short list of conservative judges in an effort to build a court that could   continue to control abortion access and bodily autonomy, if not outright overturn Roe v. Wade. Today’s decision was a 5-4 ruling that once again found Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the so-called liberal wing of the court. (He was among the dissenters in the 5-3 ruling in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt.)

There’s no question that this is good news, but we shouldn’t assume that today’s decision amounts to a wholesale fuck-you to abortion opponents. The main thing June had going for it was its similarity to Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt; the SCOTUS decision was less about abortion access as a right than about affirming the precedent set in the 2016 case. If we know anything about the anti-choice movement, it’s that it plays the long game; and as Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights pointed out after the ruling came down, “With this win, the clinics in Louisiana can stay open to serve the one million women of reproductive age in the state. But the Court’s decision could embolden states to pass even more restrictive laws when clarity is needed if abortion rights are to be protected.”

MEDIA ROUNDUP

  • June Medical Services v. Russo centered around Louisiana’s restrictive 2014 law, which required doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at hospitals. [New York Times]
     
  • It was similar to a Texas law that SCOTUS struck down in 2016. In a five-three decision, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the majority that “The surgical center requirement, like the admitting-privileges requirement, 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.” [Washington Post]
     
  • There was a lot riding on this Supreme Court decision, including the ability for abortion clinics in Louisiana and across the United States to remain open. Though 61 percent of people in the United States believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, there was no guarantee that the Supreme Court would uphold the undue burden standard. [Vox, Pew Research Center]
     
  • This was the first Supreme Court abortion case since Trump appointed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, two right-leaning justices who both agreed with Louisiana’s position that clinics must have admitting privileges. [New York Times]
     
  • Surprising us once again, SCOTUS ruled in favor of abortion rights. Chief Justice John Roberts aligned with the more liberal justices and wrote the majority opinion: “The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons. Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents.” [NBC News]
     
  • Don’t be fooled by Roberts’s recent leanings: He’s essentially telling the Trump administration to lie better and try their hardest not to buck legal precedence. In other words, you can’t present the same case—as Louisiana did—and expect Roberts to rule differently. [Atlantic, Vox]
     
  • Though clinics in Louisiana and other states will remain open for now, the fight isn’t over to protect abortion access in the United States. Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the Associated Press that the Supreme Court’s decision “could embolden states to pass even more restrictive laws when clarity is needed if abortion rights are to be protected.” [Associated Press]

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WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW

  • Read about and support the #MyRightMyDecision campaign, which is made up of reproductive justice organizations around the United States that are fighting to protect and expand abortion access. [My Right My Decision]

  • Learn more about abortion restrictions and the current restrictions in place in your state. Follow a state-specific reproductive rights group for more information on upcoming abortion restriction laws and how to fight back. [Amnesty International]

  • Learn about how the Hyde Amendment restricts access to abortion to those who are low-income and take action if you’re in a state working to repeal the Hyde Amendment. [Planned Parenthood Action Fund, All Above All]

  • Learn about the global gag rule and the federal law that would repeal it. Call your U.S. representative and tell them to vote on the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights Act, which would repeal the global gag rule. [Open Society Foundations, Advocates for Youth]
     
  • Continue donating to abortion funds, which cover a portion of the costs for those seeking abortions. The National Network of Abortion Funds breaks down abortion funds by state and how to donate to each individual fund. [National Network of Abortion Funds]

There’s more…

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