Supreme Court strikes down Louisiana abortion law, with Roberts the deciding vote
The Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Louisiana law that could have left the state with a single abortion clinic, dashing the hopes of conservatives who were counting on President Donald Trump’s appointments to lead the court to sustain restrictions on abortion rights and, eventually, to overrule Roe v. Wade.
Instead, conservatives suffered a setback, and from an unlikely source. Chief Justice John Roberts added his crucial fifth vote to those of the court’s fourmember liberal wing, saying that respect for precedent compelled him to do so, even though he had voted to uphold an essentially identical Texas law in a 2016 dissent.
In the past two weeks, Roberts has voted with the court’s liberal wing in three major cases – on job discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers; on a program protecting young immigrants known as Dreamers; and now on abortion. While the chief justice has on occasion disappointed his usual conservative allies, nothing in his 15-year tenure on the court compares to the recent run of liberal votes in major cases.
Conservatives reacted with fury. “Chief Justice Roberts is at it again with his political gamesmanship,” Sen. Ted Cruz, RTexas, said on Twitter. “This time he has sided with abortion extremists who care more about providing abortion-on-demand than protecting women’s health.”
Progressive groups countered that the court’s decision was a routine application of precedent.
Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, said the Louisiana law was “almost word-for-word identical” to the one from Texas that the Supreme Court struck down in the 2016 decision, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
Both laws required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. And in both cases, Breyer wrote, the laws put an undue burden on the constitutional right to the procedure.
The court’s decision to revisit the issue of admissions privileges had worried proponents of abortion rights given Roberts’ support for the Texas law. Since that ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had voted to overturn the law, was replaced by the more conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
But in the end, Roberts’ commitment to precedent sank the Louisiana law.
Pro-life activists participate in a demonstration in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday in Washington, D.C.