In a huge win for abortion rights, the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana bill on Monday. The ruling, a split 5-4 decision, was decided by the tiebreaking vote of Chief Justice John Roberts. Proponents of abortion rights worried the proposed Alabama bill would likely close nearly every abortion clinic in the state.
The law required any abortion provider in the state to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. This law seemed innocuous on its face, leading few in Alabama’s state legislature to question it. However, opponents noted that the bill had little medical value. They argued that, instead of protecting patients, the bill was designed to actually close most abortion clinics.
Majority Opinion Surprises GOP
Justice Roberts, a conservative appointee, surprised conservative lawmakers when he sided with the court’s “liberal wing” on the majority. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion. In it, he states that the majority “consequently hold that the Louisiana statute is unconstitutional,” striking it down.
“The evidence also shows that opposition to abortion played a significant role in some hospitals’ decisions to deny admitting privileges.”
Roberts’ siding with the liberal justices on the case is nothing new. The conservative-appointed Chief Justice has been difficult to pin down throughout his legal career. Lately, he’s turned in several opinions that sided with the liberal wing on major cases. In recent weeks, he’s sided with them on issues including LGBT rights and DACA.
Not the First Time
This is not the first time the Supreme Court has struck down state laws that tried to restrict access to abortion. Four years ago, the court stopped a similar law out of Texas. Since the landmark decisions in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, many lawmakers in conservative states have sought to undermine abortion rights.
So far, the Supreme Court has rebuffed these attempts at every turn. In a concurring opinion to the majority, Chief Justice Roberts wrote “The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons. Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents.”
Many on the political right were incensed by the decision. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany stated “Instead of valuing fundamental democratic principles, unelected Justices have intruded on the sovereign prerogatives of state governments by imposing their own policy preference in favor of abortion to override legitimate abortion safety regulations.”
Her open distaste of the role of the Supreme Court in balancing out the whims of elected officials echoes statements made by the president in recent weeks.