The Supreme Court on Thursday in a 5-4 decision blocked a Louisiana law that would have, in effect, barred most abortions. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. sided with the four Democratic-appointed justices; the other Republican-appointed justices, including Neil Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, voted to uphold the law.
The justices may yet consider whether the 2014 law — requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals — unduly burdens women’s access to abortion. The Louisiana law has never been enforced, and the Supreme Court in 2016 found a nearly identical Texas law to be unconstitutional.
The decision was a triumph for abortion rights advocates in several respects. Ilyse Hogue, head of NARAL Pro-Choice America, tweeted:
Hogue told me, “Susan Collins gaslighted millions of Americans claiming we were hysterical in believing that Justice Kavanaugh would vote to overturn precedent ... His decision in the Louisiana case proves us correct.” She added, “Senator Collins, you broke it, you bought it.” (In fact, the Republican senator from Maine voted for both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, creating a huge political problem for her should she run for reelection in 2020.)
NARAL put out an official statement, which read in part, “Today’s decision maintains a critical lifeline for women in Louisiana, who already face some of the bleakest outlooks for reproductive freedom. The Supreme Court rightfully refused to uphold a brazen and unconstitutional attempt to ignore identical cases that are intended to shutter abortion clinics in the state, making Roe v. Wade obsolete.”
The ruling is especially significant since abortion rights opponents swore up and down that eradicating Roe v. Wade wasn’t on the table. It certainly was, and their credibility has taken a hit.
Most important is what the decision tells us about the Supreme Court’s shifting alliances. Increasingly concerned about the Supreme Court’s credibility and the appearance of partisanship, Roberts joined up for the first time to protect abortion rights, something previously unimaginable. Should Roberts follow course on other issues, in essence stepping into the Justice Anthony Kennedy role as a persuadable justice, President Trump’s effort to refashion the court for a generation will be diminished.
As with the imminent defeat on the wall, Trump has less and less to offer the right wing with each passing day. Perhaps they will reconsider their reflexive defense of him.