Roberts Votes w/ Liberals as Supreme Court Blocks La. Abortion Limits

Posted February 11, 2019

The Supreme Court is stopping Louisiana from enforcing new regulations on abortion clinics in a test of the conservative court's views on abortion rights.

The justices voted 5-4 on Thursday to suspend temporarily a Louisiana law that would require abortion business operators to have admitting privileges to nearby hospitals. Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative appointed by President George W. Bush, joined the court's so-called "liberal bloc" of four justices appointed by Democratic presidents to block the law.

Nevertheless, four of the far right justices dissented: Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, those last two showing the impact of justices selected by Donald Trump. Previously New York allowed abortions after 24 weeks only if the mother's life was in danger, but the new law will allow abortions after 24 weeks if needed to protect the health of the mother. The fact of the matter is that four of the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court voted yesterday to assert that Supreme Court precedent can be ignored on this subject (SCOTUS can overrule its own precedent, it typically just takes more logic than "the offender promised they wouldn't do the unconstitutional thing that they already tried to do").

Roberts was a dissenter in the 2016 case, but his vote on Thursday for now suggests the court is not retreating from that precedent. On the other hand, if they successfully obtained admission privileges, then abortion access would not be burdened and the dispute would terminate. The justices, however, did not rule on the merits of the case. It's important to understand that the court did not strike down the full law, and it will likely agree to take up the case for full oral arguments at some point in 2019.

Pro-life and pro-choice forces both hope the court's ultimate decision on the law ends up being in their favor. The Supreme Court could decide this spring whether to add the case to their calendar for the term that begins in October.

After decades of relative stability under the court-imposed Roe precedent, the ground on abortion rights in the United States could be shifting. But with his vote on Thursday, he brought new balance to the court.

The Louisiana case has been watched closely by both sides in the almost half-century-old constitutional conflict over abortion, to see whether the arrival of new conservative Justices on the Court would change the dynamic on the issue. He was replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose judicial approach to abortion was relatively unclear at the time of his confirmation. Without discussing specific justices, Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser lamented that the "Supreme Court continues a disappointing trend of avoiding their responsibility on decisions concerning abortion [.] The Court should not prevent state legislators from doing the job they were elected by their constituents to do". That decision, and the subsequent refusal to hear it en banc, is a flawless example of the courts going off on its own to advance a political agenda-in this case, an anti-choice one. The same is true of the Affordable Care Act, where Roberts declined to join the conservatives in striking down the entire law, instead crafting a compromise that upheld most of it while allowing states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion (thereby denying health coverage to millions of poor Americans). That may sound innocuous, but it's a TRAP (Targeted Restriction of Abortion Providers) law aimed at shutting down abortion clinics. "Rather, the question should be whether the Louisiana law confers any benefits relative to the cost imposed on abortion".

"The new makeup of the Supreme Court indicated that it was likely it would have gone through, which would have had devastating consequences", she said. Kavanaugh's opinion argues that if the other three doctors aren't able to get admitting privileges, that could present an "undue burden" to abortion access (the standard set up under Roe v. Wade and recently affirmed in the Texas case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt).