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US Catholic bishops: Louisiana abortion ruling 'a cruel precedent'

CNA Monday, 29 June 2020 ()
CNA Staff, Jun 29, 2020 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- Monday’s Supreme Court decision overturning a Louisiana law holding abortion clinics to the same standards as other surgical centers ‘continues a cruel precedent’, the chair of the US bishops’ pro-life committee reflected.

In its June 29 5-4 decision in June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo, the court found that the state’s law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital posed substantial obstacles to a woman’s access to abortion, without significant benefits to the safety of women.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas commented shortly after the ruling that abortion “violently ends the life of a child, and often severely harms women. Abortion becomes even more destructive when basic health and safety standards are ignored, and profit margins are prioritized over women’s lives.”

“Even as we seek to end the brutality of legalized abortion, we still believe that the women who seek it should not be further harmed and abused by a callous, profit-driven industry,” he continued.

“The Court’s failure to recognize the legitimacy of laws prioritizing women’s health and safety over abortion business interests continues a cruel precedent. As we grieve this decision and the pregnant women who will be harmed by it, we continue to pray and fight for justice for mothers and children,” Archbishop Naumann stated.

“We will not rest until the day when the Supreme Court corrects the grave injustice of Roe and Casey and recognizes the Constitutional right to life for unborn human beings. And we continue to ask all people of faith to pray for women seeking abortion, often under enormous pressure, that they will find alternatives that truly value them and the lives of their children.”

The court’s decision was authored by Justice Stephen Breyer. Chief Justice John Roberts filed a concurring opinion.

Having been initially blocked on appeal by a district court, the law in question was upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019.

Breyer wrote that the Louisiana law was “almost word-for-word identical to Texas’ admitting-privileges law” that the Court ruled against in 2016.

The district court’s original ruling was correct to affirm that Louisiana’s “admitting privileges regulation offers no significant health benefit,” Breyer wrote, as well as its finding that the regulations “have made and will continue to make it impossible for abortion providers” to do so, thus putting “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion.”

Roberts said that abortion clinics did have standing to appeal the law on behalf of women in the state, despite having separate interests in seeing the law overturned. At issue in the case was whether the law, enacted in June 2014, imposed an undue burden on women seeking an abortion in the state.

Abortion providers argued that the Louisiana law imposed substantially the same restrictions and burdens on women as did the Texas law, which was also rejected by the court. The Louisiana law required that abortion clinics adhere to the same standards as other surgical clinics in the state and required that doctors practicing at abortion clinics have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

The law would have prevented five of the six doctors in the state who perform abortions from practicing, and would have forced the closure of two of the state’s three abortion clinics. Hope Medical Clinic, an abortion provider, and two abortion doctors sued against the law.

In its decision upholding the law, the Fifth Circuit appeals court judges said only one doctor in the state was currently unable to obtain admitting privileges, and that some abortion doctors had not tried hard enough to get admitting privileges.

Louisiana’s Unsafe Abortion Protection Act was passed in a bipartisan effort, authored by pro-life Democratic Rep. Katrina Jackson, now a state senator, and signed into law by then-governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican. It required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of a clinic.

The state’s current governor, John Bel Edwards (D), campaigned on a pro-life platform leading up to his election in 2015 and signed a bill to ban abortion in the state upon the detection of a fetal heartbeat, in advance of his 2019 re-election.

Although the Supreme Court heard a similar case of Texas’ safety regulations of clinics in 2016 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Fifth Circuit appeals court that upheld Louisiana’s law pointed out significant differences in the two cases. Fifth Circuit judges said that the law “does not impose a substantial burden on a large fraction of women” as Texas’ law did, and “passes muster” of the court’s 2016 decision.

Roberts said that Louisiana’s law imposed restrictions “just as severe” as those of Texas’ law struck down by the court in 2016. Thus, according to the “legal doctrine of stare decisis,” he said, Louisiana’s law “cannot stand” because of the court’s previous ruling in 2016.

Roberts, however, dissented from that 2016 ruling against the Texas law. He joined the dissent of Justice Clarence Thomas which criticized “the Court’s troubling tendency ‘to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue.’”
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