Supreme Court strikes down Louisiana law on abortion clinic restrictions

The court ruled 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the court's liberal justices.

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a Louisiana law requiring that individuals who perform abortions at clinics have admitting privileges in a nearby hospital is unconstitutional, as it places an undue burden on women seeking abortions.

The court ruled 5-4 in the case, June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, with Chief Justice John Roberts once again casting a deciding vote by siding with the court's liberal justices.

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The opinion, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, noted that the Louisiana law is "almost word-for-word identical" to a Texas law the court ruled was unconstitutional in 2016's Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. A District Court had rejected the Louisiana law because of that precedent, but a court of appeals ruled otherwise.

"We have examined the extensive record carefully and conclude that it supports the District Court’s findings of fact," Breyer wrote. "Those findings mirror those made in Whole Woman’s Health in every relevant respect and require the same result. We consequently hold that the Louisiana statute is unconstitutional."

Breyer noted that the District Court found that the law “offers no significant health benefit” and that “conditions on admitting privileges common to hospitals throughout the State have made and will continue to make it impossible for abortion providers to obtain conforming privileges for reasons that have nothing to do with the State’s asserted interests in promoting women’s health and safety.”

Ultimately, the majority felt that this case was virtually the same as the 2016 case, and ruled accordingly.

"This case is similar to, nearly identical with, Whole Woman’s Health," Breyer wrote. "And the law must consequently reach a similar conclusion."

Roberts had dissented in the 2016 case and said in a concurring opinion that while he still believes that the past case was wrongly decided, he was ruling with the majority in the present case due to court precedent.

"The legal doctrine of stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike," 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."

The ruling was met with fierce criticism from conservatives.

In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, "Today a majority of the Court perpetuates its ill-founded abortion jurisprudence by enjoining a perfectly legitimate state law and doing so without jurisdiction."

Thomas claimed that those performing abortions do not have standing to challenge laws on the basis that they restrict the ability to get an abortion, because it is not their rights that are at issue, but their potential patients'.

Thomas went on to flatly state that "abortion precedents are grievously wrong and should be overruled."

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Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said her organization was "appalled" by the Supreme Court's decision.

"The legislation at issue in June Medical Services v. Russo was designed to safeguard women’s health and safety, which the abortion business in Louisiana egregiously sidelined for the sake of profit," Mancini said in a statement. "No abortion facility should receive a free pass to provide substandard care."

When the case was being argued in front of the Supreme Court, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., spoke at a rally hosted by the Center for Reproductive Rights in which he appeared to threaten Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh -- conservatives who were appointed by President Trump.

"I want to tell you, Gorsuch. I want to tell you, Kavanaugh. You have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price!" Schumer warned. "You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions."

Gorsuch and Kavanaugh both opposed Monday's decision, but with Roberts siding with the liberal justices, they had no effect on the outcome.

After the court's decision was handed down, Schumer tweeted an observation about how the court has been ruling as of late.

"The Supreme Court’s entering Buffalo Springfield territory: 'There’s something happening here,'" he wrote.

This is just the latest closely watched court case where Roberts has cast a critical vote, and angered conservatives.

The court recently ruled, in a 5-4 decision penned by Roberts, that President Trump's reversal of former President Barack Obama’s DACA executive order –­ that shielded immigrants who came to the country illegally as children from deportation –­ was in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which sets out rulemaking procedures for federal agencies.

It was Roberts who, by siding with the liberal wing and reinterpreting an individual mandate as a tax, allowed ObamaCare to be found constitutional in 2012. Last year, he joined with the wing again in shutting down Trump’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the census.

Monday's ruling, meanwhile, could impact legal and political efforts to roll back broader abortion rights.

The Louisiana statute is just one of dozens of new sweeping state-level abortion restrictions nationwide, which activists on both sides say could push the Supreme Court to revisit its nearly five-decade Roe v. Wade precedent that guarantees a women's right to the medical procedure.

It also comes as abortion has once again become a major campaign issue.

Trump in January became the first sitting president to address anti-abortion March for Life rally in person, telling activists "I'm fighting for you, and we're fighting for those who have no voice, and we'll win, because we know how to win."

Democrats running for the White House promised throughout the primary season to nominate justices to the Supreme Court that will respect abortion rights.

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"Abortion and the court has been a political issue for quite a long time," said Paul Smith, a Georgetown Law Center professor who has also argued several cases before the Supreme Court. "If you go back and look at the candidate debates, it seems to be an issue that the conservative side is more motivated by, or has been historically. That may change this year."

Fox News' Adam Shaw and The Associated Press contributed to this report.