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US supreme court takes up most high-profile abortion case in decades

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The US supreme court heard arguments in the most high-profile abortion rights case in decades, on Wednesday morning. The nine justices heard arguments on whether Louisiana can impose severe restrictions on abortion doctors, in a case that is controversial on several levels, June Medical Services v Russo. The restrictions would require doctors to have “admitting privileges” at local hospitals, which are difficult to obtain.“This case is about respect for the court’s precedent,” said Julie Rikelman, lead counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing an abortion clinic in Louisiana. Just four years ago, the court ruled a nearly identical law unconstitutional, in a Texas case called Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt. That the highest court even took the case was incredibly rare, leading many to believe it is predisposed to restrict abortion rights.“The Louisiana law at issue here, Act 620, is identical to the Texas law and was expressly modeled on it,” she said. If upheld, the law would “leave Louisiana with just one clinic and one doctor providing abortions”. The issue of precedent has suddenly cast a spotlight on Chief Justice John Roberts. The court may be newly conservative-leaning, but it is not without competing interests. Roberts is often described as an institutionalist who does not like to disturb precedent, even as he has opposed abortion rights in the past. However, he did little to tip his hand Wednesday. He asked a question to all three attorneys arguing before the court: if this law is upheld, does each state have to evaluate its benefits?“Counsel, do you agree that the inquiry … is a factual one that has to proceed state-by-state?” Roberts asked early in the arguments. For many years, the court had four justice in a liberal wing, four in a conservative wing. That pattern held up on Wednesday, but with another divide apparent, this one along gender lines. Three of the court’s four liberal justices are women – the bench currently has three women in total – and all had tough questions for Louisiana’s attorneys in the case.“Is it right that there is evidence on the record that Hope clinic” – the Louisiana abortion facility in question – “has served over 3,000 women annually for 23 years, so that’s around 70,000 women, and has transferred only four patients ever to a hospital?” asked Justice Elena Kagan. An attorney for Louisiana, solicitor general Elizabeth Murrill, said the real rate could be higher.“You don’t dispute that, among medical procedures, first-trimester abortion is among the safest, far safer than childbirth?” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg went on to ask. If the justices uphold Louisiana’s law, with a ruling expected in June, it would have wide-reaching, immediate and severe consequences for abortion access across the US. One potential outcome is that the court upholds a law, keeping abortion legal, but in practice almost impossible to access. Another question before the court was whether abortion

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US supreme court takes up most high-profile abortion case in decades:

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