In a 5-4 decision, the US Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Louisiana abortion law because it placed an undue burden on women seeking an abortion.
In June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, the court reversed the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision and agreed with the district court’s findings that the Louisiana law, Act 620, “would place substantial obstacles in the path of women seeking an abortion in Louisiana.” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the opinion, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John Roberts concurred in the judgment.
Act 620 would have required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals in order to continue providing services. The plaintiffs, abortion providers in the state, argued that law placed an undue burden on women seeking an abortion. While this case was in litigation, the Supreme Court ruled in another case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which Texas’ admitting-privilege requirements were struck down as unconstitutional. The Whole Woman’s Health decision stated that the burdens must be weighed against the benefits of a law limiting abortion to determine whether it is invalid. This added a balancing test to the previously decided Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which stated that the law could not create an undue burden on women seeking an abortion.
In his conclusion, Breyer wrote:
in light of the record, that the District Court’s significant factual findings—both as to burdens and as to benefits—have ample evidentiary support. None is ‘clearly erroneous.’ Given the facts found, we must also uphold the District Court’s related factual and legal determinations. These include its determination that Louisiana’s law poses a ‘substantial obstacle’ to women seeking an abortion; its determination that the law offers no significant health-related benefits; and its determination that the law consequently imposes an ‘undue burden’ on a woman’s constitutional right to choose to have an abortion. We also agree with its ultimate legal conclusion that, in light of the finds and our precedents, Act 620 violates the Constitution.
In joining the court’s judgment, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that the decision reached is in line with the precedent set by Whole Woman’s Health. In an important statement about stare decisis, Roberts wrote, “I joined the dissent in Whole Woman’s Health and continue to believe that the case was wrongly decided. The question today however is not whether Whole Woman’s Health was right or wrong, but whether to adhere to it in deciding the present case.”