Chief Justice John Roberts cast the deciding vote in a 5-4 Supreme Court decision announced Monday striking down Louisiana’s abortion clinic restrictions, siding with the court’s four liberal justices in the landmark case.
The case, June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, centered around whether Louisiana could place “health and safety” restrictions on abortion clinics operating within the state, requiring, among other things, that doctors operating at those clinics have admitting privileges at a local hospital so that patients experiencing a medical emergency, above and beyond what an outpatient or ambulatory care clinic could handle, could effectively treat or consult on that patient in a hospital setting.
The majority said the law, similar to a Texas law struck down in 2016, runs afoul of the court’s standard in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which noted that a government could not place an “undue burden” on those seeking an abortion.
“We have examined the extensive record carefully and conclude that it supports the District Court’s findings of fact,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion. “Those findings mirror those made in [2016 Texas case] Whole Woman’s Health [ v. Hellerstedt] in every relevant respect and require the same result. We consequently hold that the Louisiana statute is unconstitutional.”
“Under the applicable constitutional standards set forth in the Court’s earlier abortion-related cases, particularly Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833, and Whole Woman’s Health, ‘[u]nnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion impose an undue burden on the right’ and are, therefore ‘constitutionally invalid,’” Breyer argued.
Roberts authored his own opinion, arguing that Whole Woman’s Health set the standard for how the court treats such restrictions and he was required to follow it.
“The legal doctrine of stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike,” he wrote. “The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons. Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents.”
Oddly, Roberts was among the dissenters in Whole Women’s Health.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the dissent issued Monday, maintaining that the majority ignored a number of problems, including whether the clinics themselves even had standing to challenge the Louisiana rule, in its haste to preserve abortion rights.
“Today a majority of the Court perpetuates its ill-founded abortion jurisprudence by enjoining a perfectly legitimate state law and doing so without jurisdiction,” Thomas wrote.
“The plurality and THE CHIEF JUSTICE ultimately cast aside this jurisdictional barrier to conclude that Louisiana’s law is unconstitutional under our precedents,” he continued. “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.”
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