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In Louisiana Case, Supreme Court Hands Abortion-Rights Advocates A Victory

Jun 30, 2020
Originally published on June 30, 2020 10:06 am
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The Supreme Court handed a victory to abortion-rights advocates yesterday. The court struck down a Louisiana law that required doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges. What it means for Louisiana is that that state's three remaining clinics can stay open, but it also has implications all across the country. Here's NPR's Sarah McCammon.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: There's no requirement for doctors in Georgia who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges, but in Atlanta, Dr. Nisha Verma was watching the case closely.

NISHA VERMA: We have a lot of patients that travel from Alabama, as well from other parts of Georgia, from Tennessee to get here to get their abortion care.

MCCAMMON: Verma is an OB-GYN and family planning fellow at Emory University. She says she fears new restrictions would force more clinics to close.

VERMA: Even though this case specifically related to Louisiana, I think a lot of us were concerned about its effect throughout the South and in more conservative parts of the country.

MCCAMMON: A recent report by the Guttmacher Institute identified 15 mostly Republican-controlled states, including Georgia, which could be poised to pass or enforce similar restrictions if Louisiana's law were upheld. Elizabeth Nash is a state policy analyst with Guttmacher, which supports abortion rights.

ELIZABETH NASH: We are talking about, you know, the South. We're talking about the Midwest. We're talking about the Plains. These are the states that have been adopting the bulk of the abortion restrictions over the past 10 years.

MCCAMMON: Nash says the ruling will shape strategy in legislatures across the country for advocates on both sides of the abortion debate. The Louisiana law was what's known as a TRAP law, or targeted restrictions on abortion providers. The Supreme Court overturned a similar Texas law in 2016 that also required hospital admitting privileges.

Michele Goodwin is a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. She says after this ruling, lawmakers in conservative states will have to shift strategies.

MICHELE GOODWIN: And let's be clear. Those attacks may come anyway. It's just that they won't be using this particular TRAP law to try to further shackle women's ability to obtain an abortion.

MCCAMMON: For opponents of abortion rights, the decision is a major blow to efforts to push forward with state laws restricting the procedure and chip away at the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. Anti-abortion groups hoped the court would rule in their favor after two of President Trump's conservative nominees joined the bench, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. But Chief Justice John Roberts, a Republican appointee, surprised observers by casting the swing vote, siding with liberal justices just four years after he'd ruled to uphold the similar law from Texas.

Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion rights. She says she feels bitter disappointment with Roberts, but she'll continue to fight for new restrictions.

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: The first step is to elect a president who will name a Supreme Court justice that will tip the court to 5-4 in our favor and will make more sane decisions.

MCCAMMON: This somewhat surprising win for abortion-rights supporters, who've been playing defense throughout the Trump administration, sets up an even more pitched battle over the issue heading into November.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.