WASHINGTON (WAFB) - The U.S. Supreme Court finished hearing oral arguments Wednesday, March 4 on a 2014 Louisiana law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.
The idea, supporters say, is to ensure doctors can follow their patients from their clinic to a hospital in the event of a complication during an abortion. But complications with abortions are rare, and pro-choice advocates say the law is one of many designed to chip away at access to abortions until they become virtually impossible to perform.
“It’s only going to deny women, particularly women of color, access to reproductive healthcare in this state,” LIFT Louisiana pro-choice advocate, Robin Barber, said. “We can ill-afford to continue to cut access for women to have reproductive healthcare and choices for reproductive healthcare in Louisiana.”
If upheld, only one Louisiana doctor would currently be able to perform abortions, and experts say two of Louisiana’s three clinics would close. There are roughly 10,000 abortions performed in Louisiana each year.
Debate on Act 620 centered on precedent the court set in 2016 when it threw out a nearly identical Texas law, ruling it constituted an undue burden on a woman’s right to seek an abortion. Pro-life advocates say that law had a fundamentally different impact because of Texas’ geography.
“Now, the burdens of a law may vary, but a law that has no benefits and doesn’t serve any valid state interest is much more likely to impose an undue burden,” attorneys representing the abortion clinic on the suit said.
In addition, the court debated whether doctors who perform abortions should be allowed to bring forth the lawsuit on behalf of women in the state. There are no patients signed onto the suit.
The law requires doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within a 30-mile radius from their clinic.
Though they are rare, complications generally occur at home after the procedure or the abortion is medically induced. With clinics in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport, it’s more likely an Alexandria patient would visit a hospital in her hometown than in the city where her abortion was performed.
“It’s odd, the 30-mile from the clinic, when most of these abortions don’t have any complications and the patient never gets near a hospital,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said. “But if she needs a hospital, it’s certainly not going to be the one near the clinic. She will be home.”
The inspector general and attorneys defending the state questioned whether Louisiana’s doctors made a complete effort to obtain admitting privileges, noting at least one doctor only applied for admitting privileges at one of New Orleans’ nine hospitals when the law briefly took effect in 2016.
A decision is not expected on the issue for several weeks, if not months.
The Supreme Court delayed the law from going into effect in February until the high court was able to fully review, deliberate, and issue a final ruling.
Read the transcript of the arguments here.
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