WASHINGTON -- A divided U.S. Supreme Court blocked Louisiana from requiring abortion doctors to get admitting privileges at a local hospital, giving a reprieve to clinics as the justices consider whether to take up an appeal.
Over four dissents, the justices Thursday put on hold a federal appeals court decision that upheld the Louisiana law, which is virtually identical to a Texas measure the Supreme Court struck down in 2016.
The court has become more conservative since then, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh replacing the retired Anthony Kennedy. Kavanaugh joined Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch in saying they would have let the law take effect.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's liberals in the majority, giving no explanation.
Although Kavanaugh said he would let the law go into effect, he said that wouldn't have changed the "status quo." He said doctors could have performed abortions during a 45-day period in which the state would determine who had the necessary privileges. Kavanaugh said new challenges could have been filed if doctors couldn't get privileges during that period.
"During the 45-day transition period, both the doctors and the relevant hospitals could act expeditiously and in good faith to reach a definitive conclusion about whether those three doctors can obtain admitting privileges," he wrote.
Opponents say the law would leave the state with only one clinic and a single abortion doctor because no one will risk the civil and criminal penalties the measure imposes for noncompliance.
"One doctor at one clinic cannot possibly meet the needs of approximately 10,000 women who seek abortion services in Louisiana each year," two unidentified doctors and the Hope Medical Group for Women, a Shreveport clinic, argued in court papers.
The state says no clinic would have to close immediately and there would be a lengthy process to determine compliance.
Louisiana told the Supreme Court it will put in place an "administrative process characterized by mutual communication among doctors, hospitals, and the state agency, with administrative remedies in the event of adverse licensing actions -- not the abrupt descent into chaos plaintiffs foresee."