The Supreme Court’s June 29 decision in June Medical Services v. Russo striking down a Louisiana law exposed misinformation about abortion access that right-wing media figures and abortion opponents have been pushing.
The June Medical Services case was about a medically unnecessary Louisiana law that required abortion providers in the state to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The law was based in right-wing media misinformation claiming such admitting privileges were necessary because abortion is an unsafe procedure, and abortion clinics routinely endanger their patients. For example, as Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List wrote for Townhall last week:
Louisiana’s abortionists have an extensive record of demerits. June Medical Services alone has been cited for placing patients in serious danger by failing to monitor their sedation; failing to perform and document examinations and patients’ medical history; neglecting to obtain informed consent; improperly stored medications and unsterile instruments; and poorly trained or unlicensed staff. Far from being burdensome, laws like Louisiana’s provide essential protection.
Dannenfelser’s claim is incorrect. A bevy of national medical groups -- including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists -- argued in an amicus brief filed on behalf of June Medical Services, the abortion clinic at the center of this case, that “abortion remains extremely safe” and “state regulation of abortion clinicians through admitting privileges requirements is not medically necessary.”
The Court agreed, supporting the lower court’s findings that the requirement of admitting privileges for providers did not serve any “relevant credentialing function” to the safety of abortion. In fact, the Court stated, “Nothing in the record indicates that the vetting of applicants for privileges adds significantly to the vetting already provided by the State Board of Medical Examiners.”
Right-wing media and abortion opponents also claimed that the law at issue in June Medical Services would not substantially impact abortion access and thus attempted to distinguish it from the Court’s 2016 ruling striking down a Texas admitting-privileges law in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. As National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis wrote before the decision came out:
Despite efforts from abortion-rights supporters to claim otherwise, the Louisiana law in question isn’t the same as the law in Texas, and June Medical isn’t fated to play out the way that Whole Woman’s Health did. Last fall, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Louisiana law, in part on the grounds that, unlike in Texas, its admitting-privileges requirement wouldn’t force any abortion clinics to close.
The Supreme Court dismissed these allegations, writing:
The District Court’s findings and the evidence underlying them are sufficient to support its conclusion that enforcing the admitting-privileges requirement would drastically reduce the number and geographic distribution of abortion providers, making it impossible for many women to obtain a safe, legal abortion in the State and imposing substantial obstacles on those who could.
The Court also concluded that the evidence demonstrating the damages of Louisiana's law is actually “stronger and more detailed than that in Whole Woman’s Health” and that the Louisiana law was “almost word-for-word identical to Texas’ admitting-privileges law.”
It should be noted that while Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s majority, he wrote a concurring opinion explaining his decision was made “on the basic concept of court precedent,” as ABC News explained. Vox's Ian Millhiser claimed the “best reading of the Court’s decision” was that “Roberts just gave the constitutional right to an abortion a potentially very brief reprieve.” Still, the decision was enough to send right-wing media figures and abortion opponents into a tail-spin, and they took to Twitter to chastise the Court and to attack Roberts, in particular, as a “disgrace.”