The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling today in the case of June Medical Services v. Russo saying that the state of Louisiana cannot require abortionists to have admitting privileges at a local hospital in the interest of protecting women’s health. This opinion echoes the High Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a similar Texas case decided four years ago. In today’s 5-4 ruling, which was authored by Justice Breyer and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, the majority stated, “Louisiana’s law poses a ‘substantial obstacle’ to women seeking an abortion; … the law offers no significant health-related benefits; and … the law consequently imposes an ‘undue burden’ on a woman’s constitutional right to choose to have an abortion.” Chief Justice John Roberts concurred with the majority in his own opinion.
“Once again, a majority of our nation’s highest court has sided with the abortion industry over the lives and wellbeing of women and babies,” said NC Family President John L. Rustin. “Just like in Whole Woman’s Health, five Justices in this case have contorted the law to give the ‘right to an abortion’ preeminence over common sense and a reasonable standard of care for women undergoing an invasive surgical procedure. Essentially, because the law would likely reduce the number of babies killed through abortion in Louisiana, the Court determined it was unconstitutional. That’s sick and shameful—may God have mercy on our nation!”
As NC Family shared with you earlier this year, the June Medical Services case began after the Louisiana legislature passed Act 620, which required physicians performing or inducing abortions to “have active admitting privileges at a hospital that is located not further than thirty miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced…” The intent of the law was to guarantee that in the event of complications arising from an abortion, a woman could be immediately rushed to a hospital and quickly receive necessary treatment. NC Family signed onto an amicus brief, along with twenty-four other family policy organizations, including the Family Research Council, in support of Act 620.
Not surprisingly, abortion providers came out in opposition to the law, sued, and were granted a permanent injunction by a federal district court. When the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s ruling, the abortion providers appealed to SCOTUS.
Much of the majority’s justification in June Medical Services came from the precedent set in the earlier Whole Woman’s Health case, which SCOTUS said imposed an “undue burden” on women seeking abortion. In fact, Chief Justice Roberts’ concurring opinion stated, “Stare decisis [following the precedent set by previous court opinions] instructs us to treat like cases alike. The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law. The Louisiana law burdens women seeking previability abortions to the same extent as the Texas law…” (It is important to note that Chief Justice Roberts disagreed with the majority opinion in Whole Women’s Health four years ago.)
But the June Medical Services case, while similar, has some important differences, and the majority overlooked these. Justice Samuel Alito pointed out the differences in his dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Gorsuch, Thomas, and Kavanaugh. Alito also expressed concerns that the majority was wrong when it stated that hospital admitting privileges had no medical benefit. “Contrary to the plurality’s assertion,” argued Alito, “there is ample evidence in the record showing that requiring admitting privileges has health and safety benefits.”
Finally, Alito argued that a regulated party—the abortion providers—cannot “invoke the right of a third party for the purpose of attacking legislation enacted to protect the third party…” Meaning, the abortion providers should not have standing to bring such a case before the court in the first place, since they are not truly an objective third party. FRC and family policy councils made this precise argument in our amicus brief to the court. There is no statute that grants abortion providers the authority to sue on behalf of women, and the fact that these providers are fighting against basic health standards for women shows that they do not have women’s best interests in mind.
In his dissent, Justice Thomas agreed: “The plurality and THE CHIEF JUSTICE ultimately cast aside this jurisdictional barrier to conclude that Louisiana’s law is unconstitutional under our precedents.” He went on to say, “But those decisions created the right to abortion out of whole cloth, without a shred of support from the Constitution’s text. Our abortion precedents are grievously wrong and should be overruled. Because we have neither jurisdiction nor constitutional authority to declare Louisiana’s duly enacted law unconstitutional, I respectfully dissent.”