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Will the Supreme Court reward violence against abortion providers?

Will the Supreme Court reward violence against abortion providers?
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States are pushing through unconstitutional restrictions on access to abortion that could threaten women’s health and lives, reduce access to healthcare and drastically escalate violence against abortion clinics. On March 4, the Supreme Court will hear June Medical Services v. Russo.

The litigation involves Louisiana's Act 620, which requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a state-authorized hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. But the untold story about this case is the role of anti-abortion violence and threats.

Fear of anti-abortion violence and harassment has led to many hospitals denying admitting privileges to abortion providers. Nearly one in four abortion providers experienced severe violence and threats of violence in 2018, and 52 percent experienced targeted intimidation and threats, according to the Feminist Majority Foundation’s nationwide survey of U.S. abortion clinics.

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That is why the Feminist Majority Foundation, the National Organization for Women Foundation, Southern Poverty Law Center and Women’s Law Project filed an amicus brief in the case, stating our opposition to Act 620.

Currently, there are only five doctors working at three clinics providing abortion care in Louisiana. Act 620 would leave only a single doctor with admitting privileges, Dr. Doe 3, located in northern Louisiana. Dr. Doe 3 testified that his fear of being the sole target of anti-abortion extremists in northern Louisiana would create an intolerable safety risk for him and his family and force him to stop providing abortion care to women in the state, leaving Louisiana without a single abortion provider.

The hardest hit would be women in lower-income communities and women of color. Approximately 90 percent of women who have abortions in Louisiana are poor or low-income and 75 percent are already mothers, and the state has the highest maternal death rate in the nation. Most abortion patients in Louisiana are women of color.

Dr. Doe 3 has every right to be in fear. We’ve seen first-hand how anti-abortion extremists isolate and stalk doctors and clinic staff, plaster their faces, names and home addresses on WANTED posters, publish ‘justifiable homicide’ lists — all with the goal of creating a climate of terror. And these same extremists have targeted hospitals, with the result being the denial or revocation of admitting privileges for abortion providers.

If the Court rules in favor of the state, the precedent it sets nationwide could be chilling. Predictably, as hospitals deny admitting privileges, many abortion providers will be unable to continue their practice, and remaining clinics will close as a result of more targeted violence. This leaves access to abortion care extremely restricted, and ultimately will hurt women. The Constitution protects a woman from unduly burdensome interference when exercising her right to abortion care, which is why the Court must rule against Louisiana in this case.

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In Whole Women’s Health, the Court found that hospitals can and do deny admitting privileges for reasons unrelated to the competency of doctors. Hospitals have denied privileges based on fear of anti-abortion threats and violence. What’s more, abortion providers don’t need privileges because abortion is an extremely safe medical procedure. Even safer than a colonoscopy, for which providers almost never send patients to hospitals. Abortion providers in Louisiana tried for over a year to get privileges and, despite being competent doctors, were denied. Extremist anti-woman lawmakers are well aware of this injustice and use it as a brutal weapon to shut down abortion access to Louisiana's women, a clear violation of constitutional rights.

This case shows that even without overturning Roe v. Wade, states can effectively ban abortion by restricting providers. The Louisiana law is identical to a 2016 Texas admitting law the Supreme Court struck down in Whole Women’s Health, where they recognized that clinics would close because they would be “unable to find local physicians in those communities with privileges who are willing to provide abortions due to the size of those communities and the hostility that abortion providers face.”

What’s changed since the Supreme Court’s decision in the Texas case? Justice Kennedy–frequently the deciding votes to strike down restrictive abortion laws — retired, and Justice Kavanaugh now sits on the Court. But it must uphold its previous ruling and protect the Constitution.

We also call for states such as Louisiana and Texas to immediately halt these “cut and paste” bills that have no basis in reality or health care and only seek to restrict women’s constitutional right to abortion. We must not let the violent forces of extremism shred Roe v. Wade state by state, clinic by shuttered clinic. Women’s lives depend on their success.

Eleanor Smeal is the president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and Toni Van Pelt is the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) Foundation.