On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard the first major abortion case since President Trump’s appointment of Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, during a presidency that he’s previously said would see the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
The hearing focused on Louisiana’s admitting privileges law, enacted in 2014, which severely restricts a woman’s access to an abortion. The law states that doctors performing abortions must get admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. Admitting privileges give an outpatient abortion doctor the right to admit patients to the hospital and treat them if an emergency occurs. According to opponents, the law would leave the state with “only one doctor in a single clinic authorized to provide abortions.”
Admitting privileges are extremely hard to get. Only two doctors in Louisiana have been able to meet the requirements, which sometimes include abortion providers having to admit a certain amount of patients per year. However, requirements like these are almost impossible to meet because abortions are one of the safest procedures in the United States. Hope Medical Group for Women, one of three abortion clinics in the entire state of Louisiana, treats 3,000 patients a year and has only had to transfer four patients to a hospital for treatment in the last 23 years. Additionally, hospitals in Louisiana, which has enacted 89 abortion restrictions—the most in the nation—since 1979, are hesitant about allowing access to abortion providers because of how they may look in generally “pro-life” communities.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the court was naturally divided by democrats and conservatives as they weighed the burdens and benefits of the law. Although the court struck down a practically identical law in Texas back in 2016, the court has since shifted. At the hearing, Louisiana Solicitor General Elizabeth Murrill advocated for the law’s supposed health and safety standards for abortion patients, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued back that not only are first-trimester abortions one of the safest medical procedures, women who need follow up care are going to go somewhere local, not travel to a hospital 30 minutes from where they had their procedure (most women in Louisiana have to travel far distances just to find a clinic).
Justice Kavanaugh asked Julie Rikelman, a lawyer representing one of the the threatened abortion clinics in Louisiana, “Could an admitting privileges law of this kind ever have a valid purpose?” To which she responded, “These laws have no medical benefit whatsoever.” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. was the only justice to speak obviously in-favor of the Louisiana law. Right now, it seems, the conservative judges are most interested in if the law could have benefits in some areas, and not others, but it still remains unclear what exactly the court will decide on come June, when the ruling is expected to take place.
Outside the Supreme Court, abortion rights activists protested the law. Even if Louisiana loses its battle, the attack on abortion rights across the country continues to grow. In the past 8 years alone, the number of abortion clinics has dropped from 510 to 344. Many Southern states are down to just one clinic.