Supreme Court To Hear First Abortion Case Since Gaining Conservative Majority
Doug Mills / Pool / Getty ImagesSupreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch, left, and Brett Kavanaugh — both appointed by President Donald Trump — attend the State of the Union address at the Capitol on Feb. 5, 2019. (Doug Mills / Pool / Getty Images)
By Cade Almond
Published October 5, 2019 at 12:20am
The U.S. Supreme Court just took what could be the first step to reconsidering the infamous Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
This will be the first abortion case to be heard since Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh were appointed by President Donald Trump, creating a perceived conservative majority on the court.
While any cases involving abortion are typically high-profile developments, this case is unique as it comes amid a slew of state laws passed restricting abortion.
Alabama banned the practice in nearly all cases, while Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Ohio followed suit by banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
Bound by current Supreme Court precedent, federal judges have blocked many of these laws, opening the door for direct challenges to Roe v. Wade in the court’s near future.
The Louisiana law in question is not an outright ban on abortion but a law that requires any doctor who performs abortions to have admitting privileges in a nearby hospital.
Specifically, the law states that every physician who performs or induces an abortion “shall have active admitting privileges at a hospital that is located not further than thirty miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced.”Admitting privileges allow doctors to perform medicine at a particular hospital. Critics of the law claim that the necessary applications can be costly and burdensome, driving abortion providers out of business.
Louisiana currently has three licensed abortion clinics.
Supporters of abortion believe the law to be identical to a Texas statute that was struck down in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016) in a 5-3 decision. Opponents, however, note that the addition of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh could swing the majority 5-4 in the opposite direction.
Currently, the Louisiana law stands, as the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals believed it to be substantively different from the Texas law.
Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the court’s liberal wing in a 5-4 decision to hear the case, signifying that he might be the upcoming swing vote. Roberts voted to uphold the Texas law in 2016.
University of Notre Dame Law School professor O. Carter Snead described to ABC News how “momentous” the court’s decision to hear the case was.
“The court could have summarily reversed the Louisiana law as violating [Hellerstedt] but it did not do so, despite the striking similarities in the laws,” he said.
“This may indicate a willingness of the newly composed Supreme court to revisit the 2016 Hellerstedt case (decided 5-3), and Justice Breyer’s novel rule that it is the role of the Supreme court to weigh the benefits and burdens of every abortion restriction aimed at promoting and protecting women’s health.
Snead isn’t the only one who noticed the novelty of selecting a case so similar to one decided a mere three years ago.
Supporters of abortion believe that the new-look Supreme Court might be willing to curb Roe v. Wade with this case even if the 1973 decision isn’t up for discussion itself.
“It’s extremely unlikely that any of the [new state abortion] bans will make it to SCOTUS this year,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jennifer Dalven told ABC News. “But they don’t need to take up a ban case to place limits on Roe.”
Oral arguments for the case will likely be scheduled for early 2020.