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Supreme Court liberals, with Roberts, strike down Louisiana abortion law

David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

That may suggest he would be open to overturning Roe vs. Wade and the right to abortion if that question were squarely presented to the court.

For years, former Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a moderate Republican appointee, had cast the deciding votes with liberals to maintain the right to abortion.

Four years ago, the court struck down a Texas law nearly identical to the Louisiana law on the grounds that it put a heavy burden on women seeking abortions because it had the effect of closing more than half of the state's clinics that provided abortions. Women who lived outside the state's major cities would be forced to travel hundreds of miles to find an open clinic. By a 5-3 vote, with Kennedy, the court said the burdens of the state's restrictions greatly outweighed the claimed benefits to health.

Roberts was among the conservative dissenters. After Kennedy retired in 2018 and was replaced by the more conservative Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, abortion opponents assumed the court was ready to cut back on abortion rights or perhaps repeal Roe vs. Wade entirely.

Last year, four members of the court -- Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Kavanaugh -- voted to allow the Louisiana law to take effect once it had been upheld by the 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans. But Roberts joined with the four liberals to put the law on hold while its constitutionality was reviewed.

The court heard arguments in March in the Louisiana clinic case fully aware that a dozen states have enacted limited or total bans on abortion. All those laws are on hold, awaiting further signals from the high court. Monday's decision does not bode well for their survival.

Lawyers for Louisiana defended the admitting privileges rule as a health and safety measure. They said it would help assure that only competent and trusted physicians were performing abortions and that their patients could be quickly transferred to a hospital in an emergency.


Abortion rights lawyers called the rule a sham and a deceptive scheme designed to shut down already embattled abortion clinics. They said that because early abortions are very safe, patients rarely are sent to a hospital. Typically, hospitals extend admitting privileges to doctors who regularly send patients there. And because abortion remains controversial, many hospitals, and especially in small towns and rural areas, are wary of having an affiliation with a doctor who performs abortions.

During the March argument, they told the justices that if the Louisiana law were upheld and the clinic in Shreveport closed, pregnant women could be forced to travel several hundred miles to New Orleans to see a doctor who provides an abortion.

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