People on both sides of the abortion debate rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court on the first Wednesday of this month, much as they did on the first Wednesday of March four years ago. Joe Pojman from the Texas Alliance for Life attended both rallies and said they had striking similarities. Both happened on clear mornings the day after Super Tuesday primaries in presidential election years. And both times, the Supreme Court heard lawsuits over whether abortionists must have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
In the 2016 case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a majority of justices struck down a Texas admitting privileges law as unconstitutional. Abortion supporters say that precedent should apply to a Louisiana law, too.
The Louisiana law is “identical to the Texas law,” said Julie Rikelman, a lawyer for abortion provider June Medical Services. The court ruled the Texas law “imposed an undue burden on women seeking abortions.” If the Louisiana measure took effect, she said, it “would leave Louisiana with just one clinic and one doctor providing abortions.”
Louisiana Solicitor General Elizabeth Murrill, a lawyer for the state, said the cases differ enough that the precedent shouldn’t apply. She pushed back on Rikelman’s assertion that abortionists cannot get admitting privileges, pointing to evidence that shows they can and have in the past. Murrill suggested the regulation would not necessarily lead to a significant decrease in the number of abortionists in the state.
Jeffrey Wall of the U.S. solicitor general’s office argued Louisiana has a greater need for the regulation than Texas did. Unlike in the Whole Woman’s Health case, women have developed complications from abortions at the Louisiana facility that could require medical treatment. One abortionist—the medical director of the Louisiana center that filed suit—has said he has had a patient with a perforated uterus who had to be taken to the hospital. “I’m prepared to concede that it may not happen all that often. I don’t think anybody knows the real rate,” Wall said. “But the point is that it does happen. And when it does, it’s very serious.”
Defense attorneys brought up another question not raised in the Texas case: Do abortionists have the right to sue on behalf of women? Murrill argued abortionists and abortion businesses don’t have this right because their interest in increasing business profits conflicts with the women’s interest in remaining healthy. “The record shows that [the abortionists] do not have a close relationship with their patients, and individual women have litigated abortion cases on their own for decades,” Murrill said. She asked why, if this law puts a burden on women and gives them no medical benefit, aren’t women filing lawsuits against it?
At the pro-life rally outside, Louisiana state Sen. Katrina Jackson, the Democrat who authored the bill, spoke about the issue at the heart of the case: “For so long this nation put the abortion industry before the health and safety of the women. … We seek to hold others accountable.” Speaking to abortionists, she said, “If you accept that woman’s money, you should be qualified and you should do whatever it takes to ensure the best outcome for her.”