U.S. top court blocks abor­tion law


Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - LAWRENCE HURLEY in Washington

The U.S. Supreme Court de­fended abor­tion rights in a ma­jor rul­ing on Mon­day by strik­ing down a Louisiana law plac­ing re­stric­tions on doc­tors who per­form the pro­ce­dure, deal­ing a blow to anti-abor­tion ad­vo­cates.

The 5-4 rul­ing, with con­ser­va­tive Chief Jus­tice John Roberts join­ing the four lib­eral jus­tices in the ma­jor­ity, rep­re­sented a vic­tory for Shreve­port-based abor­tion provider Hope Med­i­cal Group for Women in its chal­lenge to the 2014 law.

The mea­sure had re­quired doc­tors who per­form abor­tions to have a some­times dif­fi­cult-to-ob­tain for­mal af­fil­i­a­tion called “ad­mit­ting priv­i­leges” at a hos­pi­tal within 48 km of the clinic.

Two of the three clin­ics that per­form abor­tions in Louisiana, a state of about 4.6 million peo­ple, would have been forced to close if the law had taken ef­fect, ac­cord­ing to lawyers for Hope Med­i­cal Group.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion sup­ported Louisiana in the case. Anti-abor­tion ad­vo­cates had hoped the Supreme Court, with its 5-4 con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity, would be will­ing to per­mit abor­tion re­stric­tions like those be­ing pur­sued by Louisiana and other con­ser­va­tive states.

“Today’s rul­ing is a bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment,” said Mar­jorie Dan­nen­felser, pres­i­dent of the anti-abor­tion group Su­san B. Anthony List.

The decision, au­thored by lib­eral Jus­tice Stephen Breyer, marked the sec­ond time in four years the court ruled against an “ad­mit­ting priv­i­leges” re­quire­ment.

In 2016, the court struck down a Repub­li­can-backed Texas law that man­dated ad­mit­ting priv­i­leges and re­quired clin­ics to have costly hos­pi­tal-grade fa­cil­i­ties, find­ing the re­stric­tions rep­re­sented an im­per­mis­si­ble “un­due bur­den” on a woman’s abil­ity to ob­tain an abor­tion. The two laws, Breyer wrote, are “al­most word for word iden­ti­cal,” mean­ing the court must reach the same re­sult.

There is suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence that the Louisiana mea­sure “would place sub­stan­tial ob­sta­cles in the path of women seek­ing an abor­tion in Louisiana,” Breyer added.

Roberts dis­sented in the 2016 case, called Whole Woman’s Health v. Heller­st­edt, but said he voted with the lib­er­als on Mon­day based on the court’s tra­di­tion of re­spect­ing its prece­dents.

“I joined the dis­sent in Whole Woman’s Health and con­tinue to be­lieve that the case was wrongly de­cided. The ques­tion today how­ever is not whether Whole Woman’s Health was right or wrong, but whether to ad­here to it in de­cid­ing the present case,” Roberts wrote.

But Roberts did ques­tion some of the court’s analysis in the Texas rul­ing, sug­gest­ing he may side with his con­ser­va­tive col­leagues in fu­ture chal­lenges to abor­tion re­stric­tions.

Con­se­quently, the pos­i­tive re­ac­tion to the rul­ing from abor­tion rights group was muted.

“We’re re­lieved that the Louisiana law has been blocked today but we’re con­cerned about tomorrow,” said Nancy Northup, pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Re­pro­duc­tive Rights, which rep­re­sented the Louisiana clinic.

“Af­ter today’s decision, we can breathe a sigh of re­lief,” added Alexis Mcgill John­son, pres­i­dent of Planned Par­ent­hood Ac­tion Fund, an­other abor­tion rights group.

Writ­ing in dis­sent, con­ser­va­tive Jus­tice Sa­muel Al­ito said the Louisiana and Texas rul­ings were sim­i­lar only be­cause “the abor­tion right rec­og­nized in this court’s de­ci­sions is used like a bull­dozer to flat­ten le­gal rules that stand in the way.”

Roberts also sided with the lib­eral jus­tices in two other im­por­tant rul­ings this month. One found that gay and trans­gen­der peo­ple are pro­tected from work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion un­der fed­eral civil rights law. The other blocked Trump’s bid to end a pro­gram that pro­tects from de­por­ta­tion hun­dreds of thousands of immigrants who en­tered the United States il­le­gally as chil­dren.

Sev­eral other cases in­volv­ing le­gal chal­lenges to state abor­tion re­stric­tions are head­ing to­ward the jus­tices that could pro­vide other av­enues for its con­ser­va­tives to roll back ac­cess.

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