WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics, reasserting a commitment to abortion rights over fierce opposition from dissenting conservative justices in the first big abortion case of the Trump era.
Chief Justice John Roberts and his four more liberal colleagues ruled that the law requiring doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals violates the abortion rights the court first announced in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
The Louisiana law is virtually identical to one in Texas that the court struck down in 2016.
But Roberts, who had dissented in that Texas case, did not join the opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer for the other liberals in Monday’s decision, and his position left abortion-rights supporters more relieved than elated.
The chief justice explained that he continues to think the Texas case was wrongly decided, but believes it’s important for the court to stand by its prior decisions.
“The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law,” Roberts wrote.
In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “Today a majority of the Court perpetuates its ill-founded abortion jurisprudence by enjoining a perfectly legitimate state law and doing so without jurisdiction.”
President Donald Trump’s two appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were in dissent, along with Justice Samuel Alito. The presence of the new justices is what fueled hopes among abortion opponents, and fears on the other side, that the Supreme Court would be more likely to uphold restrictions.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Monday’s decision by no means ends the struggle over abortion rights in legislatures and the courts.
“We’re relieved that the Louisiana law has been blocked today but we’re concerned about tomorrow. With this win, the clinics in Louisiana can stay open to serve the one million women of reproductive age in the state. But the Court’s decision could embolden states to pass even more restrictive laws when clarity is needed if abortion rights are to be protected,” Northup said.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, said, “Today’s ruling is a bitter disappointment. It demonstrates once again the failure of the Supreme Court to allow the American people to protect the well-being of women from the tentacles of a brutal and profit-seeking abortion industry.”