The Shreveport abortion clinic Hope Medical Group for Women sued, saying the regulations posed an undue burden on the ability of women to have an abortion.
A district court first issued a restraining order on the enforcement of the law’s penalties. Then, in 2016, the court issued a preliminary injunction on the law. Later that year, after the Supreme Court later struck down a similar Texas law in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the district court permanently enjoined Louisiana’s law from going into effect.
That decision was reversed by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals which said that the law posed a benefit to women’s health and did not put substantial burdens on abortion in the state.
Unlike in Texas where most clinics closed because of its law, “only one doctor at one clinic is currently unable to obtain [admitting] privileges” in Louisiana, the Fifth Circuit said.
Reviewing the evidence of the case before the district circuit, the Fifth Circuit also found that some abortionists did not try hard enough to obtain admitting privileges at hospitals.
The case went to the Supreme Court, and more than 200 members of Congress signed an amicus brief in favor of the law. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), who is facing a tough primary battle against a pro-abortion opponent, signed the brief, an act his opponent Marie Newman highlighted in an attack against him.
Wednesday’s arguments focused on two main questions—on whether an abortion clinic, rather than women in the state, has “third-party standing” to bring such a case before the Court, and whether the admitting privileges requirements violate the Constitution by imposing a substantial burden on legal abortion rights.
Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh—the newest justices on the bench who could be deciding votes in a 5-4 case—said little on Wednesday, with Justice Samuel Alito being the most vocal member in questioning the abortion clinic’s case against the law.
The “third-party standing” question referred to the legitimacy of abortion clinics, instead of women of the state, arguing before the Court that the law would substantially burden abortion.
Elizabeth Murrill, Louisiana’s Solicitor General arguing in favor of the law, said that “these doctors should not be able to challenge regulations intended to protect a certain class of people.”
The attorney representing June Medical Services, L.L.C., defended the rights of abortion clinics to bring “third-party” lawsuits against state laws, even if a conflict of interest might exist between the clinics’ desire to do business and the safety of women they claim to represent.
Justice Alito called the argument “amazing.”
(Story cotinues below)
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“You think that if the plaintiff actually has interests that are directly contrary to those individuals on whose behalf the plaintiff is claiming to sue, nevertheless that plaintiff can have standing?”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg repeatedly asked why the admitting privileges requirement was relevant to women’s health, given that many women might experience abortion-related complications at home, after having visited a clinic, and thus would go to the hospital by themselves.
Questions also arose as to whether Louisiana’s law is substantially different from Texas regulations struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016 in the Hellerstedt case, with lawyers for the state arguing that the law was “justified by abundant evidence of life-threatening health and safety violations, malpractice, noncompliance with professional licensing rules, legislative testimony from post-abortive women, [and] testimony from doctors who took care of abortion providers' abandoned patients.”
In one case, Murrill said, an abortionist testified that he transferred four women to a hospital for abortion-related hemorrhaging. The same doctor also admitted in testimony that he hired a radiologist and an ophthalmologist to do abortions, she said, posing clear safety risks to women.
Jeffrey Wall, U.S. Principal Deputy Solicitor General who argued in support of Louisiana’s law on Wednesday, noted that the doctor’s testimony of transferring the four women to hospitals was proof that, while “often” complications might be experienced by women at their home and not at the clinic, they “sometimes” do occur while women are still at the clinic.
In such cases, Wall said, the best practice would be admission to a hospital—something backed up even by the abortionist’s testimony.