The U.S Supreme Court ruled Monday that it’s unconstitutional to require doctors to have admitting privileges to hospitals in order to perform abortions, saying that requirement ultimately puts an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions, and places a “substantial obstacle” in the way of abortion access.
Louisiana’s Act 620 considered whether doctors should be required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where they work in order to legally provide abortion procedures. Admitting privileges mean a doctor is set up with a particular hospital where they can admit patients and provide medical services to that patient using the resources at that hospital.
The 5-4 vote in favor of striking the measure was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative justice nominated by George W. Bush. Roberts occasionally sides with the more liberal justices, earning him the reputation of a swing justice.
In Robert’s written opinion he said that balancing that kind of regulation with how it would affect abortion would really just serve as an obstacle to a woman’s right to have an abortion.
Roberts wrote, “A finding of an undue burden is a shorthand for the conclusion that a state regulation has the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.”
Many Louisianna Abortion Doctors Would Not Be Able to Continue Doing Procedures if the Measure Had Been Passed
According to the document on the SCOTUS decision, five abortion clinics and four abortion providers challenged Act 620 and several doctors who were plaintiffs opposing the measure were interviewed. They’re referred to as Doe 1-6 to protect their identities.
Three of those doctors said if the measure passed they would not be able to continue their work as abortion providers. Another doctor said he would stop abortion services if he were the last provider in Northern Louisiana. Another’s location in Baton Rouge would prohibit them from being able to get admission privileges, leaving only one abortion facility to serve all the women in the state who seek abortions.
According to the decision:
And Doe 5’s inability to obtain privileges in the Baton Rouge area would leave Louisiana with just one clinic with one provider to serve the 10,000 women annually who seek abortions in the State. Those women not altogether prevented from obtaining an abortion would face “longer waiting times, and increased crowding…Delays in obtaining an abortion might increase the risk that a woman will experience complications from the procedure and may make it impossible for her to choose a non-invasive medication abortion. Both expert and lay witnesses testified that the burdens of increased travel to distant clinics would fall disproportionately on poor women, who are least able to absorb them.
Louisiana has Enacted 89 Abortion Restrictions — More Than Any Other State in the U.S.— But This Latest Restrictive Measure ‘Doesn’t Appear to Change how Abortion Patients Receive Hospital Care’
According to The Guttmacher Institute, the state of Louisiana has the most regulations on abortion in the nation, though some of the 89 restrictions are not in effect or have been struck down.
But this latest attempt to enact another regulation did not show enough conclusive evidence to pass the Supreme Court test, in which the benefits of enacting a law are weighed against rights afforded in the Constitution.
In a study on how admitting privileges affect health outcomes of women seeking abortions published by the University of California San Francisco, they wrote:
We found that an abortion provider having admitting privileges doesn’t appear to change how abortion patients receive hospital care. We found that few patients needed to be transferred to the hospital by ambulance. In addition, patients often sought follow-up care after they had returned home and in these cases admitting privileges do not apply. In such cases patients often go to their closest emergency department and not the hospital at which the abortion provider has admitting privileges. If abortion providers determine there is a problem that requires hospital care when the patient first presents for abortion care, clinics already have protocols in place for communicating with hospitals. The majority of patients referred to hospitals were due to ectopic pregnancy or have other health risks.