Supreme Court halts Louisiana abortion restrictions

The Supreme Court has agreed to temporarily block a Louisiana abortion law from taking effect.

In a 5-4 ruling issued late Thursday, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's liberal wing to stay the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, which requires physicians to hold “active admitting privileges” at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where abortion care is provided, while the legal challenge to it plays out in court.

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Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughFirst-generation American launches Senate campaign against Booker Susan Collins raises .1 million in third quarter Poll: 50 percent of Maine voters disapprove of Susan Collins's job performance MORE said they would have denied the application.

In a lone dissenting opinion, Kavanaugh said he would deny the stay without prejudice because the law has not yet taken effect.

Kavanaugh noted that the four doctors who currently perform abortions at Louisiana’s three abortion clinics have 45 days under the law to obtain the required admitting privileges.

“Before us, the case largely turns on the intensely factual question whether the three doctors — Doe 2, Doe 5, and Doe 6 — can obtain admitting privileges,” he said. “If we denied the stay, that question could be readily and quickly answered without disturbing the status quo or causing harm to the parties or the affected women, and without this Court’s further involvement at this time.”

The case came up from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed a district court's decision to strike down the law despite arguments that it is identical to the Texas law the Supreme Court struck down in 2016 as unconstitutional, in a case known as Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt.

Challengers said the Supreme Court found then as the district court did in this case that the law would drastically reduce abortion access throughout the state and provide no benefit to women’s health or safety.

Rebekah Gee, Louisiana’s Health and Hospitals Secretary, argued that unlike the Texas case, there was evidence here that “the admitting-privileges requirement performs a real, and previously unaddressed, credentialing function that promotes the wellbeing of women seeking abortion.”

In Louisiana,“hospitals perform more rigorous and intense background checks on doctors than do the abortion clinics,” state attorneys said in court briefs. “Louisiana abortion clinics, beyond ensuring that the provider has a current medical license, do not appear to undertake any review of a provider’s competency.”

Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, La., and the two physicians that brought the challenge said in a filing last week that the Louisiana law was already being felt as clinics, doctors and patients prepared for the possibility the state could start enforcing the law last Monday.

“Scheduled medical procedures are being canceled, physicians and clinic staff are preparing to be out of work, and patients seeking to exercise their constitutional right to abortion are being turned away or sent to other states,” the challengers argued. “These harms will only accumulate if this Court does not grant a stay, and the damage for many patients will be irreparable.”

Because the filings in the case were not completed until Friday, Justice Samuel Alito agreed later that day to put the law on hold through Thursday to give the justices more time to weigh the request.

He noted the order did not reflect his views on the merits of the case.

Rachel Frazin contributed to this report.