In its first big abortion ruling of the Trump era, the United States Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics, reasserting a commitment to abortion rights over fierce opposition from dissenting conservative justices.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined with his four more liberal colleagues in ruling that a Lousiana law that imposes restrictions on doctors who perform abortions violates a right the court first announced in the landmark Roe v Wade decision in 1973.
In two previous abortion cases, Roberts had favoured more restrictions on the procedure.
“The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law,” Roberts wrote, although he did not join the opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer for the other liberals.
While this one restriction was defeated, for far too many people access to abortion still remains a right on paper only — and people of color and people with low incomes will continue to carry the heaviest burdens because of racist and discriminatory barriers to care.
— Planned Parenthood Action (@PPact) June 29, 2020
In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “Today a majority of the Court perpetuates its ill-founded abortion jurisprudence by enjoining a perfectly legitimate state law and doing so without jurisdiction.”
President Donald Trump’s two appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were in dissent, along with Justice Samuel Alito. The presence of the new justices is what fueled hopes among abortion opponents, and fears on the other side, that the Supreme Court would be more likely to uphold restrictions.
The Republican-backed Louisiana law included a requirement that doctors who perform abortions have a difficult-to-obtain arrangement called “admitting privileges” at a hospital within 48km (30 miles) of the abortion clinic.
Abortion opponents called the ruling a “bitter disappointment”.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, said it “demonstrates once again the failure of the Supreme Court to allow the American people to protect the well-being of women from the tentacles of a brutal and profit-seeking abortion industry”.