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Abortion could be "profoundly" impacted in 15 states depending on upcoming Supreme Court ruling, study shows

Abortion ruling could affect 15 states

The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on an abortion regulation that could close all three of Louisiana's clinics that provide the procedure. But a new study published Monday shows the impact of the decision could be much more far reaching.

More than 15 states could see abortion access "profoundly" reduced if the Supreme Court allows the regulation at the center of June Medical Services v. Russo to be implemented, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute shared exclusively with CBS News. The high court is considering a 2014 Louisiana law that requires doctors who provide abortions to have privileges to admit patients at a nearby hospital. Supporters of the law say it's designed to improve patient safety, but critics say it's intended to shut down clinics that provide abortion.

"Admitting privileges only have one purpose: to close abortion clinics," said Elizabeth Nash, interim associate director for state policy and co-author of the study, in an email prior to the release of the report.

In addition to Louisiana, Nash's report identified six states — Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas — with admitting privileges laws enacted, but not currently in effect due to previous Supreme Court precedent. An additional nine are "at risk" of adopting such laws, the report says, because they have governors and legislatures that oppose abortion rights. 

Public officials in support of the regulation deny its intention is to shut down abortion access. The Louisiana lawmaker who wrote the legislation called the law — known as the "Unsafe Abortion Protection Act" — a "common sense" measure. And the state attorney responsible for defending the law to the Supreme Court said in an interview with CBS News that the restriction's purpose is to "protect the health and safety" of patients.

Regardless of intention, admitting privilege laws have historically been tied to clinic closures. When an admitting privilege law in Texas was in effect from November 2013 to June 2016, the number of clinics in the state nearly halved, dropping to 22 from 41. Though the Supreme Court overturned the law in 2016 with its ruling in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, the number of facilities has not rebounded. The law at the center of June Medical Services v. Russo is nearly identical.

In its report, Guttmacher identified similar impacts in Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama when admitting privilege laws were temporarily allowed to go into effect.

If the high court sides with Louisiana, all three of the states's clinics that provide abortion are expected to close. As recently as October, only one doctor providing abortion services in Louisiana had admitting privileges, a Shreveport-based physician working part-time at the Hope Clinic, the plaintiff in the case. In court documents, that doctor has said he plans to discontinue working at the clinic if the law were to go into effect, citing safety concerns over being the last doctor providing abortion in the state.

Four patients in 20 years have been transferred to the hospital from the Hope Clinic in Shreveport. Given the relative safety of the procedure, major professional medical organizations — including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — say admitting privilege laws for abortion providers are medically unnecessary.

In the 15 states Guttmacher identified, access to abortion is already limited. Many attempted to restrict access to the procedure amid the coronavirus pandemic. And all currently have abortion regulations like mandatory waiting periods, state-directed counseling and bans on insurance coverage. 

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