The Supreme Court Thursday blocked a Louisiana pro-life law from going into effect, disappointing pro-lifers and putting a damper on hopes that a new conservative block will quickly lead to a reversal of Roe v. Wade.
That still might happen, but Thursday’s action lowered the optimism of pro-life leaders. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s liberal bloc in a 5-4 decision that halted the law, which would have required abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of a clinic.
Pro-lifers said the goal of the law was to make abortion safer for women who experience complications. Pro-choicers said the law would have forced abortion clinics to close. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld the law.
Contrary to his vote on this case, Roberts has a history of affirming pro-life thought. In 2006, he voted to uphold a ban on partial-birth abortion. Last year, he sided with crisis pregnancy centers in a free speech case.
The Supreme Court in 2016 struck down a Texas law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges. The vote was 5-4, and Roberts voted with the conservative bloc in the minority.
Ed Whelan, a legal expert and president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote at National Review’s website that it is wrong to view Thursday’s ruling with “grand significance.”
“I don’t think that the Chief’s vote signals anything about how he will rule on the merits of the case,” Whelan wrote. “I would be very surprised if he regards the Court’s 2016 decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (from which he dissented) as sound precedent. Nor should he.”
The justices still may hear the case. Thursday’s ruling was not on the full merits of the law but on a request from pro-choice groups to block it from going into effect. They argued it was too identical to the 2016 law that the high court already had struck down.
“With the law now on hold, nothing is expected to happen in the case until the [abortion] providers file their petition for review, which is due in mid-April,” Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog wrote. “If the justices decide to take up the case, which seems likely because the prospect that the Supreme Court will grant review is one of the criteria that the justices considered before granting the stay, oral argument would likely be held in the fall of 2019 or winter of 2020, with a decision by the end of June 2020.”
President Trump’s two nominees, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, joined Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in dissenting. Kavanaugh wrote a dissent saying he would have allowed the law to go into effect because abortion doctors would have had 45 days under state law to try and obtain admitting privileges.
“If the doctors can obtain necessary admitting privileges during the 45-day transition period,
then the doctors could continue performing abortions at the three clinics both during and after the 45-day transition period, as envisioned and predicted by the Fifth Circuit. And in that circumstance, the Louisiana law as applied would not impose an undue burden under Whole Woman’s Health,” Kavanaugh wrote.
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Drew Angerer/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.