The Supreme Court on Friday blocked enforcement of a Louisiana law that could force all but one of the state’s abortion clinics to close, a sign that a similar law in Texas also could be in peril. The justices effectively reversed an order by the federal appeals court in New Orleans that allowed Louisiana to begin enforcing its 2014 clinic regulation law even as it is being challenged in the courts.
The law requires doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
Two clinics, in Boisier City and Baton Rouge, that had already closed in response to the appellate ruling will reopen and a third clinic in Shreveport that faced imminent closure will remain open, said the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the clinics.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said the state would continue defending the law. “We remain confident that we will prevail on the merits,” Landry said.
The high court’s order, with only Justice Clarence Thomas noting his dissent, came two days after the justices heard arguments in a major abortion case from Texas and just hours after they voted in a private meeting on the outcome of that case. A vote for the clinics in Louisiana could signal that Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote is crucial to both sides, also will be a decisive fifth vote in favor of abortion clinics in Texas.
The cases are at different stages in the legal process, but they involve similar laws and actions by the same federal appeals court, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The appeals court was willing to let both states enforce the admitting privileges law. Additionally, the Texas law forces clinics to meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery.
The Supreme Court has previously put the Texas surgical center standards on hold, and cited that action in its order Friday. In 2013, however, the court split 5-4 in allowing Texas to require doctors to have hospital admitting privileges to perform abortions in clinics.
Opponents of the laws said half the 40 clinics that were open in Texas before the 2013 law closed as a result. There would be only 10 clinics left in the state if the Texas law were to be fully enforced.
Louisiana’s law was struck down by a trial judge, but the appeals court said last week that the law could be enforced.
Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Judge Jennifer Elrod rejected the clinics’ argument that the appeals court should heed earlier Supreme Court action preventing Texas from fully implementing the regulations. The clinics contended that the Supreme Court is likely to side with the Texas clinics and would reverse any action against the Louisiana clinics.
But Elrod said the clinics “misinterpret both the facts in our prior abortion cases and the Supreme Court’s rulings.” The Supreme Court, operating with eight justices since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last month, said Friday it was Elrod and her colleagues who got it wrong.
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