The Supreme Court on Friday blocked Louisiana from enforcing a law that threatened to close all but one of the state’s abortion clinics.
The court’s action came just two days after it heard oral arguments in a similar case from Texas, and abortion rights supporters treated it as a positive sign. It came just hours after the justices met to discuss the Texas case for the first time in their private conference.
The court gave no reason for its Friday order; only Justice Clarence Thomas noted that he disagreed and would have let the Louisiana law take effect.
The issue is whether clinic doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. It was hotly debated during Wednesday’s oral arguments reviewing the Texas law.
Abortion providers say the requirement is medically unnecessary — hospitals accept any patient who developed complications after an abortion, they say, whether the doctor had admitting privileges or not.
The privileges are also sometimes difficult to acquire no matter the doctor’s qualifications, the providers say. Doctors are sometimes turned down because they are from outside the community, do not admit enough patients to qualify or simply because the hospitals do not want to become involved in the controversy over abortion.
The states that have passed the requirements say it contributes to a continuity of care for the patient.
A federal district judge had blocked Louisiana’s law from enforcement. But a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit stayed that decision on Feb. 24, meaning the law could take effect.
The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) then went to the Supreme Court, saying the 5th Circuit’s decision should be blocked at least while the high court considered the similar law from Texas.
Friday’s action by the Supreme Court will allow two Louisiana clinics that closed after the 5th Circuit’s ruling to reopen and saved another from imminent closure, CRR said.
“For the third time in a little over a year, the Supreme Court has stepped in to preserve women’s ability to get the constitutionally protected health care they need,”said Nancy Northup, the center’s president and chief executive. “Just two days after arguing our case before the Supreme Court to strike down a similar sweeping law in Texas, we look to the Justices to put an end to these sham measures threatening women’s rights, health and lives across the U.S.”
The court’s liberal justices during oral arguments Wednesday were dismissive of Texas’s argument that the admitting privileges requirement was necessary.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer questioned whether there had been a single documented case of a woman not receiving the hospital care she needed because her doctor lacked privileges.
Texas Solicitor General Scott A. Keller said he could not provide one.
“So what is the benefit to the woman of a procedure that is going to cure a problem of which there is not one single instance in the nation, though perhaps there is one, but not in Texas?” Breyer asked.