If a single vote on the Supreme Court had shifted in the other direction, the state of Louisiana would have been left with just one doctor to provide abortions for all women in the state.
Instead, on Monday morning the court struck down the contentious Louisiana law, which would have severely restricted abortion access. The 5-4 decision found Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four liberals-leaning justices—Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Trump-appointed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh joined reliable conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas in dissent. It’s the first abortion-related decision of the new, conservative-leaning, Trump-inflected Supreme Court.
The law—if upheld—would have set a precedent that states can chip away at abortion rights through a number of restrictions, despite the watershed 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that enshrined the right to abortion as constitutional in the U.S.
Louisiana’s abortion law was significant for two reasons.
The first is that it would have required doctors to have a credential called an “admitting privilege” at a nearby hospital. To a person outside of healthcare, that sounds like a reasonable credential to require of a doctor.
In fact, an admitting privilege is a financial relationship a doctor has with a hospital, not a qualification or a special license. And in an ironic twist, “admitting privileges” are almost impossible for abortion providers to get—hospitals (especially in places like Louisiana) don’t want to publicly associate with doctors who perform abortions, and abortion is so safe that those doctors aren’t usually able to obtain admitting privileges, which are given to providers who admit large numbers of people to hospitals.
The admitting privileges law, like many of the 450-odd abortion-restricting laws that have been passed in the U.S. since 2011, is called a “trap law”—Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers. That means they try to make abortion impossible to access by passing laws that claim to protect women’s health. One of the most absurd examples is laws in five states that force doctors to show women seeking abortions inaccurate information that claims that getting an abortion could increase your risk of breast cancer.
The Louisiana law would have left the state with a single abortion clinic with a single abortion provider, in the name of “women’s health.”
Abortion is a constitutional right as long as the 1973 decision Roe V. Wade isn’t overturned. But in the meantime, republican lawmakers do everything in their power to make actual access to abortion impossible.