Roberts Joins Liberals To Block Louisiana Abortion Law

Supreme Court justices watch President Donald Trump's second State of the Union address. Brett Kavanaugh far right is newes

Although the Court now has a majority of five conservative Justices, one of them, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., voted with the Court's four more liberal Justices to put the law on hold temporarily.

The justices said by a 5-4 vote late Thursday that they will not allow Louisiana to put into effect a law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Thursday's action again demonstrates Roberts' role as the key vote on abortion in the Supreme Court, said CNN analyst and University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck.

In his dissent, Kavanaugh said there was a dispute about whether the physicians in the Louisiana case could obtain admitting privileges, and that a 45-day grace period would have provided time to settle that question.

The Supreme Court is now likely to take up the clinic's appeal of a lower court ruling allowing the law, with a decision on the merits possible in 2020, just months before the US presidential election.

An abortion business, Hope Medical Group, had gone to court to challenge the law's requirement that abortionists have "admitting privileges" at a hospital within 30 miles of their abortion business.

Beyond the Louisiana law - which resembles a Texas law struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016 - many other anti-abortion measures are being litigated in the courts or being considered in this year's legislative sessions.

Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributor to National Review, said in a February 8 post he does not think Roberts' vote for the stay "signals anything about how he will rule on the merits of the case". He is, by most measures, a very conservative justice, but he seems determined to keep the court from moving too far right too fast and being perceived as just another forum for partisan politics in Washington.

The court will decide soon whether to hear Indiana's bid to revive a state ban on abortions performed due to the sex or race of the fetus or evidence of disability.

Justices often feel bound by a prior decision of the court, even one they disagree with, at least until the court formally takes on a case to consider overruling the earlier decision.

Justice Anthony Kennedy had cast the deciding vote to block the Texas access law, but was replaced by Kavanaugh a year ago.

Has Roberts "committed himself to reaffirming Whole Woman's Health or any of the court's other abortion decisions?"

Kennedy backed abortion rights in two key cases.

That's because as it stands now, state laws are not allowed to place an "undue burden" on a woman's right to choose, putting so many obstacles in her path that it becomes hard or impossible for her to exercise her rights. He wrote that the Court needs more facts about the impact of the Louisiana law before putting enforcement on hold.

States on the other side of the divide are fighting back to preserve access to reproductive health care.

If "one or two of the three clinics would not be able to continue providing abortions ... then even the state acknowledges that the new law might be deemed to impose an undue burden for purposes of Whole Woman's Health", Kavanaugh wrote. He said those doctors would need to make a "good faith effort" to demonstrate that the law hinders abortion access. If they're going to eventually uphold the Louisiana law anyway, it's much better not to be so obvious that they're just out to destroy abortion rights wherever they can.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote a dissent from granting the stay, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch.

It was signed into law in 2014, but a federal judge blocked it, later ruling the law unconstitutional.

And when they do uphold the Louisiana law after a full hearing, that's what Roberts will accomplish.

The Supreme Court is the final defense against unsafe and unconstitutional attacks on basic rights and freedoms that affect the most important parts of our lives. The court will likely hear a challenge in the fall, during its next term.

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