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Supreme Court halts Louisiana abortion law from taking effect


 

The U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily barred a Louisiana law that would require stricter requirements for physicians who provide abortion care, the first abortion-related decision for the current conservative-leaning high court.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts

In a Feb. 7, 2019, order, Supreme Court justices stopped the law from moving forward until they can decide whether to accept the case for oral argument. The law in question would require Louisiana physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where they offer abortion care.

A group of health professionals sued over the Louisiana statute after it was enacted in 2014, arguing that the requirement was unconstitutional because it placed an undue burden on women seeking abortions. A federal court agreed, concluding that the law would leave a significant number of Louisiana women unable to get an abortion. The state appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the decision in January 2019. The physician plaintiffs then urged the Supreme Court to stop the law, scheduled to take effect on Feb. 4 while the case continued through the courts. The health professionals argue that no physicians in Louisiana would be available to perform abortions after 17 weeks of pregnancy if the law proceeds and that only one physician in the state would be available to provide an abortion in the earlier stages of pregnancy. Attorneys for the state countered that health providers are overestimating the law’s effect and requested that the measure be allowed to go forward.

In a Feb. 1 order, the Supreme Court provided the plaintiffs a short stay while they reviewed briefs in the case. Then, in a 5-4 decision on Feb. 7, the majority court halted the legal challenge indefinitely until they can decide whether to take up the case.

Four justices – Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh – dissented from the majority, writing that they would have allowed Louisiana to enforce the law. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the high court’s four more liberal justices in stopping the law’s enactment.

The plaintiffs’ petition to the Supreme Court is due in April. If the case is accepted, oral arguments would likely be scheduled for fall 2019 or winter 2020, according to court analysts.

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