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Center for Reproductive Rights Back at U.S. Supreme Court; Identical Abortion Issue Decided in 2016

Court will revisit abortion precedent as it reviews a law designed to shutdown abortion clinics.

WASHINGTON - Today, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a petition for certiorari filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, agreeing to hear June Medical Services v. Gee. The case challenges a Louisiana law that would close every abortion clinic in the state except for one. The disputed law (Act 620) prevents doctors from providing abortion services unless they have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

June Medical Services v. Gee is the first abortion rights case to be heard by the Supreme Court since the confirmations of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. The Supreme Court struck down an identical Texas law in 2016 in the landmark case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt--a case also brought by the Center. In that case, the court found that admitting privilege requirements pose an “undue burden” on the right to abortion, and that any state law restricting abortion access must have tangible benefits that outweigh the burdens placed on women.

“Louisiana is openly defying the Supreme Court’s decision from just three years ago, in which they found an identical Texas law unconstitutional,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We are counting on the Court to follow its precedent, otherwise, clinics will needlessly close and there will be just one doctor left in the entire state to provide abortion care.”

“Louisiana has tried everything under the sun to decimate access to abortion care,” said Kathaleen Pittman, clinic administrator at Hope Medical Group, a plaintiff in this case. “The situation here is already dire and this law would be the last straw for most of the remaining clinics. We’re hopeful that the Court will recognize how devastating this law would be for women in our state.”

There is no medical justification for requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges, as abortion is extremely safe. Leading medical organizations, like the AMA and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, oppose these kinds of laws. Hospitals frequently deny admitting privileges to doctors who provide abortions for reasons ranging from ideological opposition to the fact that too few of their patients will ever need hospital care.

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The Court also granted a petition from the state of Louisiana, asking the court to review whether the doctors and clinics in the case have standing to bring the lawsuit. The Supreme Court has consistently recognized that abortion providers have standing. 

“Nearly all abortion cases today are brought by medical providers,” said Julie Rikelman, Senior Litigation Director at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “If they couldn’t fight for their patients’ rights, many of these cases would never make it to court, which is precisely why Louisiana is making this argument. This is part of a coordinated national strategy to undermine women’s rights. What’s more, Louisiana’s challenge to third-party standing could have sweeping implications for civil rights, not just abortion, shutting the courthouse door to entire classes of people.” 

Already, Louisiana ranks among the lowest in the country in terms of abortion access--more than 92% of Louisiana parishes have no abortion clinic. Since 2001, the number of abortion clinics in Louisiana has fallen from 11 to three as the state has imposed a slew of onerous requirements for abortion providers. There are nearly one million women of reproductive age in the state.

Louisiana ranks 48th among states when it comes to the health of women and children, and maternal mortality has increased 28% in Louisiana since 2016. The Center for Reproductive Rights has sued Louisiana 27 times since the organization was founded in 1992.

The Center originally filed this case--June Medical Services v. Gee--in August 2014. Plaintiffs are a women’s health center, doctors and their patients. Julie Rikelman and Travis J. Tu are lead counsel for plaintiffs, along with co-counsel O'Melveny & Myers LLP.

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The Center for Reproductive Rights uses the law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill.

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