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Just two days after an intense hearing on a Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a lawsuit involving a Texas abortion law, the U.S. Supreme Court took temporary action (on a 7-1 vote) on another lawsuit, June Medical Services v. Gee, involving a similar law in another state. The Supreme Court blocked enforcement of a Louisiana law that impacted the availability of abortions in the state, far ahead of their eventual ruling in the Texas case.
Both states put some similar restrictions on abortion clinics and physicians, which lawyers for the clinics argue place an “undue burden” on patients. It could be that the court decision handed down on the Texas case will affect other states. Otherwise, the Louisiana delay could just be buying time for them to fully vet the situation.
Both states had enacted laws requiring doctors who perform abortions to have professional affiliations with hospitals near their clinics, along with other restrictions that are forcing clinics to close. The Louisiana legislation is somewhat different from the measure enacted in Texas. Louisiana imposed other restrictions, including a 24-hour waiting period after a first trip to a clinic and an ultrasound.
Enforcement of the new law in Louisiana would leave only up to three doctors legally able to perform abortions in the state. In Texas, the law has been in effect for several months; while many clinics in the Lone Star State have closed, there are still 10 in operation.
Another difference in Texas is the stipulation that all abortion clinics be able to provide some surgical services and accommodate gurneys, even though many do not perform surgeries. Some only perform abortions in the first trimester via pills (so-called medical abortions). This actually was a discussion point in Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote is considered to be critical in the forthcoming abortion ruling, brought up the fact that most abortions are now done without surgery, except in the Lone Star state. “My reading indicated that medical abortions are up nationwide, but down significantly in Texas. This may not be medically wise,” Kennedy noted, expressing concern that surgery – with more risks involved – was the alternative.
Nationally, the rate of abortions has fallen significantly. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the use of pills to trigger miscarriages as an abortion method, usually in the first nine weeks of a pregnancy is growing, which also indicates that abortions are happening early on. The medical method was used in 20 percent of cases in 2012, the most recent year available from CDC data. That was a 10 percent increase from the prior year. However, as Kennedy noted, the use of medical abortions in Texas dropped 22 percent in the most recent data available from the state’s health department.
A huge concern with requirements that are forcing abortion clinics to close is that women will delay getting abortions, or have to wait weeks for an appointment. This would force them to have abortions later in the pregnancy negates the ability to use pills.
The Supreme Court decision to block the law from being enacted in Louisiana is ahead of a ruling on the Texas case (which could be as late as June). Until it becomes clear whether the justices want their ruling to be precedent setting and apply to other states, doctors in Louisiana will be moving ahead with an appeal.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
SCOTUSBlog:Louisiana limit on abortion blocked temporarily
SCOTUSBlog: New abortion case ready for the Court
New York Times: Supreme Court Blocks Louisiana Abortion Law
Washington Post: The odd thing Justice Kennedy noticed about abortion in Texas
Photo by Daderot (public domain)