The Supreme Court reaffirmed abortion protections on Monday, striking down athat, if allowed to be implemented, could have made the state the first to be without a legal abortion provider since Roe v. Wade.
The decision — with Chief Justice John Roberts concurring with the court's four-member liberal minority — is the court's first major abortion rights decision since two Trump appointees took the bench, delivering a major win to abortion rights supporters who've been concerned about the court's new ideological makeup and how that would impact the future of abortion access.
Thursday's 138-page decision, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, found Louisiana's restriction — which requires doctors who provide abortions to haveat a nearby hospital — violated precedent set in the 2016 Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt ruling, a case that dealt with a nearly identical regulation in Texas.
In his opinion, Breyer wrote that Louisiana's law was "unconstitutional."
"This case is similar to, nearly identical with, Whole Woman's Health. And the law must consequently reach a similar conclusion," Breyer wrote. Chief Justice Roberts did not join Breyer's opinion but concurred with the ruling on the basis of maintaining precedents previously decided by the Supreme Court.
Plaintiffs in the case, known as June Medical Services v. Russo, challenged Louisiana's "Unsafe Abortion Protection Act," a law that has been blocked by courts since its passage in 2014. Supporters of the law say it was designed to improve patient safety, but critics say its intention was to shut down clinics that provide abortion.
Major professional medical organizations — including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — disagreed with the health claims, saying that given the safety of the procedure, admitting privilege laws for abortion providers are medically unnecessary.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, the law firm that challenged the law, praised the decision on Monday, but added thatrights remain uncertain.
"We're relieved that the Louisiana law has been blocked today but we're concerned about tomorrow," said Nancy Northup, the center's president and chief executive officer, in a statement emailed to CBS News on Monday. "[T]he Court's decision could embolden states to pass even more restrictive laws when clarity is needed if abortion rights are to be protected."
Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood's president, sounded a similar warning, saying "the fight is far from over."
"While today is a victory for Louisianans, we must remember that we are in a world where politicians have pushed basic health care almost out of reach for millions of Americans, and where your ability to access abortion is still determined by where you live, how much money you make, and in this country that effectively also means the color of your skin," McGill wrote in a statement to CBS News.
The White House called the Monday's decision an "unfortunate ruling," and defended states' authority to regulate abortion.
"[T]he Supreme Court devalued both the health of mothers and the lives of unborn children," the White House statement said. "... States have legitimate interests in regulating any medical procedure — including abortions — to protect patient safety. Instead of valuing fundamental democratic principles, unelected Justices have intruded on the sovereign prerogatives of State governments by imposing their own policy preference in favor of abortion to override legitimate abortion safety regulations."
As of November, only one of the five doctors who provide abortions in Louisiana was in compliance with the law, a physician in the northwest corner of the state. However, that doctor's administrator told CBS News that if the law were implemented,to avoid harassment from anti-abortion rights groups over being "the last man standing."
The author of the law, Louisiana State Representative Katrina Jackson, has denied that its purpose was to reduce abortion access, and called the regulation "common-sense women's health care."
Elizabeth Murrill, the state's solicitor general and attorney who defended the regulation in front of the Supreme Court, agreed, saying its purpose was "to protect the health and safety of women who are having abortions."
Monday's decision was a blow to anti-abortion rights activists, who have seen Trump's presidency as an opening to reverse legal protections for abortion. In a statement emailed to CBS News on Monday, Jeanne Mancini, the president of March for Life, said she was "appalled" by the decision.
"This decision underscores the importance of nominating and confirming judges who refrain from legislating from the bench, something pro-life voters will certainly remember come November," Mancini said.
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