Chief Justice John Roberts joined liberal justices on the Supreme Court on Monday in a 5-4 ruling that struck down Louisiana’s tough restriction on abortion, saying it violates the Constitution.
The ruling invalidates a state law passed by Louisiana’s legislature in 2014 that required doctors that provide abortion services to have “admitting privileges” at a hospital within 30 mile from their offices. The court ruled that the law placed an undue burden on women seeking abortions.
Two doctors and a medical clinic in the state sued to overturn the law, which has been in limbo for nearly six years.
“The challengers said the requirement was identical to a Texas law the Supreme Court struck down in 2016,” NBC News reported. “With the vote of then-Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court ruled that Texas imposed an obstacle on women seeking access to abortion services without providing any medical benefits. Kennedy was succeeded by the more conservative Brett Kavanaugh, appointed by President Donald Trump, who was among the four dissenters Monday.”
Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the Texas decision, also wrote Monday’s ruling. The law poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking an abortion, offers no significant health benefits, “and therefore imposes an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to choose to have an abortion.”
Roberts said he thought the court was wrong to strike down the Texas law, but he voted with the majority because that was binding precedent. “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.”
The Texas law struck down was known as the Whole Woman’s Health decision.
“We have examined the extensive record carefully and conclude that it supports the District Court’s findings of fact,” Breyer wrote. “Those findings mirror those made in Whole Woman’s Health in every relevant respect and require the same result. We consequently hold that the Louisiana statute is unconstitutional.”
Breyer said the District Court found that the law “offers no significant health benefit” and that “conditions on admitting privileges common to hospitals throughout the State have made and will continue to make it impossible for abortion providers to obtain conforming privileges for reasons that have nothing to do with the State’s asserted interests in promoting women’s health and safety.”
Roberts opposed the 2016 decision, but joined the majority on Monday because, he said, he was following court precedent.
“The legal doctrine of stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike,” Roberts wrote in a concurring opinion. “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.”