Supreme Court Tackles Key Abortion Case, Decision Could Deeply Impact Marginalized Communities

By Shani Saxon Mar 05, 2020

The United States Supreme Court on March 4 heard arguments related to a Louisiana abortion law that would severely limit access to people throughout the state, CNN reports. The dispute centers around the constitutionality of the state’s 2014 law, the “Unsafe Abortion Protection Act,” which requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals in case of an emergency. The law is not currently in effect, but its implementation would leave just one doctor able to perform abortions in the entire state. 

Justices appeared divided over the case, according to CNN. Louisiana argues the rule would protect women’s health and increase public safety. Lawyers for reproductive health clinics, however, insist implementing this law would be harmful to people seeking abortions. 

Reports CNN:

Key justices indicated that they could be poised to uphold the law that is similar to a Texas law the Court struck down just four years ago. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh both asked questions suggesting that the Louisiana law that requires doctors to have admitting privileges in local hospitals could serve a valid purpose.

Justice Samuel Alito emerged as the strongest and most vocal supporter of the law and even questioned whether the doctors and clinics could actually bring the challenge because they might have a "conflict of interest" with the women seeking abortion. The doctors’ interests in new regulations, Alito suggested, may not align with a patient seeking treatment.

…The liberal justices, led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, strenuously questioned the law, suggesting it was unnecessary and the procedure is safe…Ginsburg pressed repeatedly on the notion that the law was not medically necessary. She noted that "most" abortions don’t have complications. And she asked "what sense" it made to require a doctor to have admitting privileges in a hospital within 30 miles if a woman would more likely travel to a hospital near her own home if she needed to see a doctor after the abortion. Ginsburg noted that abortion is "far safer" than other procedures, including childbirth.

Marcela Howell, founder, president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, tells Colorlines that upholding a law that limits access to abortions could be particularly dangerous for marginalized communities.

“When clinics shut down and travel time to clinics as well as wait times for appointments increase, abortion care is pushed out of reach for those struggling financially, who are often Black women and other people of color, LGBTQ people, and young people,” she said. “We need abortion access, not just the legal right to an abortion—because when we can’t access the health care we need, we’re denied freedom, safety and autonomy in our bodies and lives.”

CNN writes that other states will feel empowered to pass similar laws should the Supreme Court rule in favor of Louisiana. That’s why it’s crucial for communities of color to rally now and fight back against such harmful legislation.

“We can all show up to support abortion rights and access, from educating those around us, to supporting those seeking abortions to organizing for meaningful, inclusive legislative change,” Howell says. “We have real momentum to fight for policies that protect and expand abortion access on every level of government, including lifting dangerous abortion coverage bans like the Hyde Amendment."

The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in the case by July of this year.