Roberts sided with liberal justices, overturning Louisiana abortion law

    Protesters at the Supreme Court in March 2020, when the justices were hearing arguments in June Medical Services LLC v. Russo. Robin Bravender/States Newsroom.

    WASHINGTON — In a major victory for reproductive rights, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a controversial Louisiana law that critics said would have severely limited access to abortion in Louisiana and opened the door to further abortion limitations around the country.

    Enacted in 2014 by the Louisiana state Legislature, the law would have required physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

    A district court overturned the law in 2017 on the grounds that it offers no benefits to women’s health that justify the burdens it places on abortion access, but a federal appellate court reversed the decision in 2018.

    On Monday, the high court sided with the lower district court, ruling that its findings and underlying evidence support its conclusion that the law would “drastically reduce” access to abortion and make it impossible for many women to obtain a safe, legal abortion in the state.

    The court also noted that the law is “nearly identical” to a similar Texas law that the court struck down in 2016. In that case — Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (WWH) — the court found that the law posed an undue burden on access to abortion.

    The decision comes on the heels of two recent rulings in which the conservative-tilting court’s four liberal justices won the day. Earlier this month, a majority of the court backed LGBTQ workplace rights and blocked a Trump administration program that threatened young, unauthorized immigrants known as “Dreamers” with deportation.

    Writing for the majority in June Medical Services v. Russo, Justice Stephen Breyer said the district court’s findings “mirror” the Whole Woman’s Health case “in every relevant respect and require the same result.” Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan agreed.

    Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a concurring opinion, citing the legal doctrine of stare decisis — the principle that obligates courts to follow previous rulings in similar cases.

    Roberts joined the court’s conservative wing in its 2016 dissent in Whole Woman’s Health, arguing that the Texas law should have been upheld. In joining the court’s liberals Monday, he wrote that the question “is not whether Whole Woman’s Health was right or wrong, but whether to adhere to it in deciding the present case.”