Supreme Court Blocks Louisiana Abortion Law


Demonstrators outside of the federal appeals court in New Orleans in January, after a hearing on a Texas abortion law.CreditEdmund D. Fountain for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday temporarily blocked a Louisiana law that its opponents say would leave the state with only one abortion clinic.

The law, enacted in 2014, requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. A trial judge blocked the law, saying that such doctors were often unable to obtain admitting privileges for reasons unrelated to their competence and that the law created an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.

On Feb. 22, the federal appeals court in New Orleans stayed that ruling, allowing the law to go into effect.

The two sides disagree about the law’s impact.

The challengers — three clinics and two doctors — said that the appeals court’s ruling caused one of the state’s four remaining clinics to close the next day, while a second began providing only consultations. A third, in Shreveport, is operating but may not do so for long, they said.

If it closes, according to the challengers, the state would be left with a single abortion doctor at a single clinic, in New Orleans.

“That lone doctor, working in one clinic, cannot meet the need for approximately 10,000 abortions in Louisiana each year, a need that was previously met by six physicians in five clinics across the state,” the clinics challenging the law told the Supreme Court in an emergency application filed on Feb. 26. “As a result, many women will be unable to exercise their constitutionally protected right to choose abortion at all, and others will face unreasonable delays and therefore increased risks of complications, or will turn to self-performed, unlicensed or unsafe abortions.”

In their own brief, state officials said things were not that dire. Three doctors, they said, have admitting privileges “that allow them to continue to provide abortions in two of the major population centers in Louisiana — Shreveport and New Orleans.”

“At worst,” the state told the justices, the law “would still leave over 90 percent of Louisiana women within 150 miles of an operating abortion clinic.”

Louisiana laws impose other restrictions, including a 24-hour waiting period after a first trip to a clinic, which includes an ultrasound that a doctor must describe to the woman seeking an abortion.

The admitting-privileges provision at issue in the case, June Medical Services v. Gee, No. 15A880, is similar to one in a Texas law the Supreme Court considered on Wednesday in a major abortion case. It, too, was upheld by the federal appeals court in New Orleans, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.