Anti-abor­tion tests on the hori­zon

Ac­tivists see past Supreme Court’s 5-4 vote in Louisiana case to other laws in the pipe­line.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By David Crary

Ac­tivists on both sides of the abor­tion de­bate are re­act­ing cau­tiously to a 5-4 Supreme Court vote block­ing Louisiana from en­forc­ing new abor­tion reg­u­la­tions. They agree that the cru­cial tests of the court’s stance are still to come.

De­pend­ing on the view­point, the vote rep­re­sented a tem­po­rary vic­tory or set­back — but not proof as to how the court might deal with a slew of tough an­tiabor­tion laws work­ing their way through state leg­is­la­tures and fed­eral courts.

“We’re elated — but not in the sense of un­cork­ing the cham­pagne,” said Cen­ter for Re­pro­duc­tive Rights at­tor­ney Travis Tu, who has helped lead the fight against the Louisiana law. “We’re elated in the sense of we just dodged a bul­let.”

NARAL Pro-Choice Amer­ica Pres­i­dent Il­yse Hogue, while re­lieved by the court’s vote, said it “il­lus­trates a sober­ing re­minder: The thread that women’s rights hang by is dan­ger­ously thin.”

The law in ques­tion would re­quire Louisiana abor­tion providers to have ad­mit­ting priv­i­leges at nearby hos­pi­tals.

Chief Jus­tice John Roberts joined the Supreme Court’s four lib­er­als Thurs­day in putting the law on hold pend­ing a full re­view of the case. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s two ap­pointees, Neil Gor­such and Brett Ka­vanaugh, were among the four con­ser­va­tive jus­tices who would have let the law take ef­fect.

Ac­tivists on op­pos­ing sides voiced hope that the case will even­tu­ally re­turn to the Supreme Court for a de­fin­i­tive rul­ing on the substance of the law.

“We will con­tinue to do all that we legally can to pro­tect Louisiana women and the un­born,” said Louisiana At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Landry.

Be­yond the Louisiana law, which re­sem­bles a Texas law struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016, many other anti-abor­tion mea­sures are be­ing lit­i­gated in the courts or be­ing con­sid­ered in this year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sions. Many were de­signed to present a chal­lenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court rul­ing that estab­lished a na­tion­wide right to abor­tion.

In at least six states — Florida, Ken­tucky, Mis­sis­sippi, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee — ef­forts are un­der­way to en­act bills to out­law abor­tions af­ter a fe­tal heart­beat is de­tected, as early as six weeks into a preg­nancy. Back­ers of these bills said they were un­de­terred by the Supreme Court’s lat­est ac­tion.

“I’m not re­ally con­cerned at this point what the court does,” said Mis­sis­sippi state Sen. An­gela Hill. “I’m con­cerned about do­ing what Mis­sis­sippi wants us to do.”

Asked if the Supreme Court vote would have an im­pact on the “heart­beat” bill de­bate in Ohio, an­tiabor­tion ac­tivist Janet Porter said, “None what­so­ever.”

Porter, au­thor of the orig­i­nal leg­is­la­tion that’s now spread to other states, ques­tioned the no­tion that Roberts’ vote with the court’s lib­eral wing in the Louisiana case sig­naled that he’d side with them in fu­ture abor­tion cases.

Ohio Right to Life Pres­i­dent Mike Gonidakis agreed.

“What Jus­tice Roberts’ ac­tion says to us is that he wants the whole thing briefed, he wants the op­por­tu­nity to grill both sides,” Gonidakis said.

Abor­tion rights sup­port­ers also ex­pect Roberts to cast the crit­i­cal swing vote in fu­ture abor­tion rul­ings.

“We know there are four jus­tices who were will­ing to al­low a law to take ef­fect even though the Supreme Court struck down an iden­ti­cal law less than three years ago” said Jennifer Dal­ven, who heads the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union’s Re­pro­duc­tive Free­dom Project. “We don’t know how that will play out with other laws. It’s re­ally a ques­tion of Chief Jus­tice Roberts.”

In ad­di­tion to the “heart­beat” bills, sev­eral other anti-abor­tion mea­sures have sur­faced in mul­ti­ple states, in­clud­ing two that Na­tional Right to Life ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor David O’Steen views as strong can­di­dates to pass muster with the Roberts-led court.

One type of mea­sure would ban most abor­tions af­ter 20 weeks of preg­nancy on the dis­puted premise that a fe­tus can feel pain at that stage. An­other set of bills seeks to ban a com­monly used sec­ond trimester pro­ce­dure known as di­la­tion and evac­u­a­tion.

O’Steen said Roberts “would have ev­ery rea­son” to sup­port both of these mea­sures if they came be­fore the court.

At the lone abor­tion clinic op­er­at­ing in New Or­leans, nurse Vanessa Shields-Haas, who helps es­cort pa­tients into the fa­cil­ity, said she was pleas­antly sur­prised at the 5-4 vote to block the state law’s im­ple­men­ta­tion.

“The new makeup of the Supreme Court in­di­cated that it was likely it would have gone through, which would have had dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences,” she said. “It’s clear that this law is about ide­ol­ogy. It’s not about safety.”

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